May 3, 2013

Source: Bomb suspects planned July 4 attacks

The Tsarnaevs allegedly changed their minds because the Boston Marathon was 'ideal.'


BOSTON – Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan initially planned their attack for the upcoming July Fourth holiday but changed their minds shortly before the Boston Marathon because the race was an "ideal" target, a federal law enforcement source said Thursday.

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This Dec. 5, 2011 file photo shows the Devens Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Devens, Mass., where Boston bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

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This combination of undated file photos shows Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. (AP Photo/The Lowell Sun & Robin Young, File)

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WASHINGTON — A top Republican senator asked the Obama administration Thursday to explain how a student from Kazakhstan charged with trying to help get rid of evidence for one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects managed to enter the country without a valid student visa.

In a three-page letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked for additional details about the student visa applications for Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, the college roommates from Kazakhstan charged with obstruction of justice in the April 15 bombings, and how Tazhayakov was allowed to re-enter the United States in January.

Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev, both 19, and a third student – all friends and classmates of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – were arrested Wednesday in Massachusetts. They were accused of helping after the attacks to remove a laptop and backpack from the Tsarnaev’s dormitory room before the FBI searched it. Robel Phillipos, 19, was arrested and charged with willfully making materially false statements to federal law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation.

The disclosure that Tazhayakov was allowed into the country without a valid visa was another instance of possible lapses by the U.S. government in the months before the bombings. Earlier this week the Obama administration announced an internal review of how sensitive information was shared among law enforcement and intelligence agencies and whether the government could have prevented or disrupted the attack. Republican lawmakers have promised oversight hearings, the first of which is scheduled next week.

– The Associated Press

The rapid assembly of two pressure cooker bombs that exploded at the marathon April 15 went faster than the two brothers expected and also weighed on their decision to change their plans, the source said.

Information about the switch in targets came from several investigative threads and details gleaned from hospital interviews with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev two weeks ago before he was read his Miranda rights and stopped talking to authorities, the source said.

The 19-year-old student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth told FBI agents he and Tamerlan Tsarnaev saw Patriots Day and the symbolism attached to it as an ideal time to set off the bombs, the source said. Turning the attack into a suicide bombing was one "possibility" the brothers considered, the source said.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators that he and his brother built their pressure cooker bombs at Tamerlan Tsarnaev's home, according to the source. Once they settled on a day for the attack, they scouted the marathon course before deciding that the finish line -- packed with onlookers and a large news media presence -- was where they would set off the bombs, the source said.

Federal investigators, meanwhile, continued to search two laptop computers belonging to the Tsarnaev brothers for any evidence the pair had help planning the attacks, according to the law enforcement source.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's computer, along with a laptop owned by Dzhokhar, were recovered in the days after the bombing. Investigators are poring over the two computers’ emails, pictures, contacts and any other data that could expand the probe, including whether Islamic leaders in Russia radicalized Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the source said.

Dzhokhar told investigators that he and his brother had listened to online sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical who was killed in 2011 U.S. airstrike in Yemen, and an Islamic U.S. Army psychiatrist who allegedly shot and killed 13 and wounded 29 in 2009.

And also on Thursday, Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body was claimed, said Terell Harris, a spokesman for the Boston medical examiner's office.

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