A lot has certainly come to light on Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev over the last 24 hours.
We know that their family is originally from Chechnya, where Temerlan was born. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya has been a war torn country. It's a predominantly Muslim territory where a separatist movement has been ongoing to liberate the province from Russian control. Radical Islamic terrorism, guerrilla warfare and hostage crises are no strangers to Chechnya's history. The Moscow theater hostage crisis, for example, involved 50 armed Chechens and 850 hostages, and resulted in a large death toll mostly due to the effects of an aerosol anesthetic pumped through the building by Russian Spetsnaz forces to render those inside unconscious.
The Tsarnaevs fled across the Caspian Sea and settled in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, where Dzhokhar was born. The Tsarnaevs were then granted asylum in the U.S. as political refugees around 2002 and settled in the Cambridge area of Massachusetts. Tamerlan, who was killed early Friday morning in a shootout with law enforcement officers, was 15 at the time. Dzhokhar, who was in custody Friday evening, was only 8.
Millions of political refugees from war torn countries around the world are seeking asylum in the U.S. Some get in, many don't. The fact that the Tsarnaev brothers were two of the lucky few to successfully be granted asylum and then repaid the blessing by what they did this week is truly astounding.
We know very little about their parents as of this writing. According to Jerry Siegel, the manager of Webster Auto Body in Somerville, Mass., father Anzor Tsarnaev worked for him as a mechanic for a little while in 2004. Siegel said Anzor was known in the neighborhood for working on his car outside, even in winter. Siegel described Anzor as a "nice guy," and recalled a time when a man who worked at the shop was hit by a car and Anzor dragged him out of the street.
"Big guy, tough guy," Siegel said. "Would do anything you told him to."
In Siegel's recollection, Anzor's sister Maret (the attorney aunt who was talking with the press on TV Friday) had come by and lobbied hard to get her brother a job at the shop. "I just remember her promoting the hell out of him," Siegel said. "I remember her saying 'he can take a car completely apart and put it back together.'"
Siegel said Anzor had difficulty with English when he worked at Webster, and was a quiet guy.
"He didn't talk when he was here," Siegel said. "He just worked."
Even less is known about the Tsarnaev mother, Zubeidat.
She was arrested and charged with two counts of malicious/wanton damage and defacement to property after allegedly swiping $1,624 worth of clothes from a Lord & Taylor in Natick, Mass. in June 2012. She currently resides in Dagestan, Russia.
Both parents are separately still proclaiming their sons' innocence.
There was also a Tsarnaev daughter, Alina, currently residing in New Jersey.
"I'm hurt for everyone that's been hurt," Alina said. "I'm not okay. No one is okay right now."
"I have no idea what got into them," she later said, referring to her brothers.
So what did get into them?
Dzhokhar was well liked and respected by his classmates at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. A talented wrestler, he was listed as a Greater Boston League Winter All-Star. "He was a smart kid," said Peter Payack, 63, assistant wrestling coach at the school. In 2011, the year he graduated, he was awarded a $2,500 scholarship by the City of Cambridge, an honor granted to only 35 or 40 students a year. But once in college, Dzhokhar began to struggle academically. According to a university transcript reviewed by the New York Times, he was failing many of his college classes.
For Tamerlan, life seemed more difficult.
He was studying at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston to become an engineer. A promising boxer, he fought in the Golden Gloves National Tournament in 2009. In 2010, Tamerlan beat Southern New England's Brian Daniels in the heavyweight title bout. Tamerlan also received the prestigious Rocky Marciano Trophy given to the New England heavyweight champion.
He seemed to come off as socially awkward and uncomfortable.
"There are no values anymore," Tamerlan said once in an essay published in Boston University's magazine The Comment. "People can't control themselves."
"I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them," he also once said.
He did, however, have an American wife — 24-year-old Katherine Russell of Rhode Island, who, according to a statement released by her family to reporters late yesterday, "lost her husband today, the father of her child," who friends said is 3.
"He started hating people around him," said Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of the Tsarnaev siblings (Anzor's brother), recalling his last conversation with Tamerlan in 2009. "I told him, 'Stop hating everything.'"
He also repeatedly described Tamerlan as a "loser" but said he had no inclination that Tamerlan had anti-American sentiments. He stresses his brother could not be responsible for feeding him anti-American beliefs. "Anzor worked tirelessly to feed his family, spending lots of his time fixing cars at mechanic shops," he said.
But Tamerlan harbored deep anti-American sentiments indeed. A YouTube account that appears to have been run by Tamerlan includes a playlist devoted to terrorism, including one video in English titled "The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags from Khorasan." He also maintained a playlist devoted to Islam and one devoted to Timur Mutsuraev, a Chechen singer who sang of the republic's battle for freedom from Russia.
The FBI revealed on Friday that they had questioned Tamerlan in 2011, after a foreign government (presumed to be Russia) alerted officials that he had possible ties to Islamic extremists. Federal officials vetted Tamerlan but their probe did not produce any "derogatory" information and the matter was put "to bed," according to a U.S. law enforcement source.
Tamerlan then managed to fly to Moscow in January of 2012 and spent six months abroad before returning to Massachusetts in July. It is now presumed that Tamerlan spent those six months in Chechnya or possibly Dagestan where he might have had contact with a large Islamic fundamentalist terrorist cell and learned to build the bombs that were used in the Boston Marathon attacks Monday. Authorities are investigating.
Dzhokhar became a naturalized citizen on September 11, 2012, but Tamerlan still held a green card because a 2009 domestic violence complaint was standing in his way.
"Because of his girlfriend, he hit her lightly, he was locked up for half an hour," the Tsarnaev father said.
According to a New York Times profile, Dzhokhar admired and emulated his older brother.
Peter Tean, 21, a high school wrestling teammate, said that he thought Dzhokhar's intense interest in rough-and-tumble sports came from a desire to be like his brother.
"He's done these violent sports because his brother's a boxer," Tean said. "He really loves his brother, looks up to him."
So piecing this all together, we certainly see a family with a broken home. Tamerlan was a deranged and deeply disturbed individual who harbored an anti-American Islamic fundamentalist agenda. His kid brother, Dzhokhar, looked up to Tamerlan and presumably started harboring Tamerlan's agenda as well.
Both their parents were abroad. We don't know what kind of relationship the Tsarnaev brothers had with their sister, uncle or aunt, but it seems to have been estranged at best. For Dzhokhar, I think Tamerlan was his only family.
I'm not making any excuses for anyone. We already know Tamerlan is rotting in hell for what he did. Dzhokhar will have to answer for his role as well in the deaths of 8-year-old Martin Richard, 29-year-old restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 23-year-old Chinese national Lü Lingzi, 26-year-old MIT police officer Sean Collier, and the over 180 other people that were injured, maimed and disfigured in the Boston Marathon bombings.
But for a 19-year-old kid who was confused and vulnerable, a part of me can't help but feel pity for him. I also can't help but feel sorry for the rest of the family affected by these brothers' actions.
Tamerlan was a selfish individual who has now left his child fatherless.
Most of all, I think of all the hard working immigrants and political refugees who have suffered and still dream of coming to this country one day. This country took the Tsarnaevs in, and Tamerlan and Dzhokhar showed their gratitude.