Much of the information circulated around the internet about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston Marathon bomber who was killed in a shoot out with police, comes from a single source. In 2010, photographer Johannes Hirn documented Tsarnaev’s boxing, as he was a Golden Gloves competitor hoping to someday qualify for the Olympic boxing team. An immigrant from Chechnya who spent time in Kyrgyzstan, Tsarnaev did not have full citizenship, and expressed an interest in using boxing to become an American citizen. (Hence the title of the piece: “Will Box for Passport.”)
Though the photoessay has since been made private (though it is still available in its original publication for The Comment, Boston University's graduate student magazine, here), Hirn’s piece shows an unexpected side of the suspected Boston bomber.
Taken at Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts Center in Boston, the photo essay paints a fairly mundane picture of Tsarnaev’s everyday life and passions, with few clues as to what could have led him to instigate the Boston Marathon bombing.
Tsarnaev’s girlfriend, pictured with him below, was a important part of his life. She converted to Islam for him, according to the essay. In Tsarnaev’s words, "She's beautiful, man!" The Guardian reports that he was arrested in 2009 for domestic assault of his girlfriend.
Hirn’s narrative paints Tsarnaev as a devoted Muslim, dedicated to his religious practices. He says that he rarely takes his shirt off because he "is very religious," and doesn't want to give girls the wrong idea.
Tsarnaev was a boxer through and through, dismissive of other fighting styles. “When you start kicking, it gets dirty. That’s what I think,” he commented. On k ickboxers: “They don’t know how to move.”
In spite of his desire for American citizenship, Tamerlan says, "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them."
The article also provides more benign information about Tamerlan: He was enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College, pursuing a degree in engineering, and enjoyed the movie Borat, though he found some of the jokes to be “a bit much.”