Skip to main content

Video shows Boston bombing suspects at gym days before attack

By Deborah Feyerick and Ross Levitt, CNN
June 2, 2013 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
  • The manager noticed Tamerlan Tsarnaev suddenly lost the full beard he had for years
  • "Shaving the beard may be a way to blend in," a CNN terror analyst says
  • The manager says Tsarnaev's friend also worked out at the gym
  • Todashev was killed last week while being questioned over a 2011 triple homicide

(CNN) -- Three days before the Boston Marathon bombings, suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were working out together at a Boston gym.

Security cameras captured footage of the brothers arriving at the Wai Kru mixed martial arts center with a friend just before 2:45 p.m. April 12.

The manager at Wai Kru, who wanted to be identified only as Michael, noticed a distinct change in the older brother's appearance.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's full, bushy religious beard, which he had for about two years, was gone.

James Taylor: Bombings 'un-Boston'
Music's best come together for Boston
Bombing suspect involved in 2011 murders
Family members injured in Boston bombing

Michael described the older brother as extremely opinionated and outspoken about his Muslim religion. He said he didn't ask Tamerlan why he had shaved because he didn't want to engage in what was likely to be a long, heated debate.

Now, Michael wonders whether Tamerlan's shaving of his beard may have been part of an Islamic purification ritual prior to death.

"Shaving the beard may be a way to blend in, not to attract scrutiny from security services in carrying out the Boston attacks," CNN terror analyst Paul Cruickshank said.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev trained at Wai Kru several times a month, for free, as a professional courtesy to the nationally ranked Golden Gloves boxer. His younger brother Dzhokhar rarely came, showing up just "two or three times" in roughly two years, Michael said.

"We've seen with Western militants, wanna-be jihadists, a real emphasis on physical training, physical fitness, wanting to be prepared for jihad," Cruickshank said.

In surveillance video recorded at Wai Kru and obtained by CNN, the manager -- who was off-camera -- asked the brothers to take off their shoes, as stated on the gym's posted rules.

Suspect: Boston bombing was payback for hits on Muslims

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, complies right away. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, refuses to take off his shoes and argues instead.

The manager later e-mailed the owner asking him to ban Tamerlan Tsarnaev, saying he's arrogant, selfish and never helps anyone else.

But the argument at the the gym that day didn't seem to faze Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was the first to enter the ring. His years of training were evident as he skillfully handled the jump rope.

His younger brother seemed to have more difficulty and less stamina as he struggled to hold up his oversized shorts.

Another man who was with the brothers was introduced as a friend, the manager said. He was later questioned and released by the FBI.

The brothers seemed relaxed at the gym -- though Dzhokhar rested at times and Tamerlan kept moving.

Almost exactly 72 hours later, the bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In the chaotic days that followed, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout, and his younger brother was captured after hiding in a boat in nearby Watertown, Massachusetts.

FBI agents have seen the security footage from Wai Kru but were in a rush and took only a few screen grabs for still photos. The manager said he notified investigators about another Chechen -- Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's who also worked out at the gym.

Todashev was shot and killed last week by an FBI agent. He was being questioned about a triple homicide on September 11, 2011.

One of the victims from that triple homicide used to spar with Tamerlan -- at the Wai Kru gym.

Part of complete coverage on
Boston Marathon Bombings
Survivors of three earlier bombings describe their journeys forward — and offer poignant words for those just one year away from the day that changed their lives.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 0615 GMT (1415 HKT)
"United, we will always persevere." That was the message Massachusetts shared on the anniversary of twin bombings that turned last year's Boston Marathon from a celebration into a day of horror.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)
I'm running it to make a simple statement: Acts of cowardice will not stop me from exercising my rights as an athlete and a human.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1940 GMT (0340 HKT)
Many of those whose lives were shattered are still struggling to put the pieces back together. Here are some of the victims, as well as larger funds, who continue to need your support.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
As April 15 approaches, the fact that we tell time in circles brings us to remember the attack on the Boston Marathon one year ago.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
CNN's Bill Weir talks to Carlos Arredondo about helping those injured immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
By running in response to the tragedy, we weren't attempting to negate the irreparable harm done to the people of Boston last year. We wanted to do something, anything, to try to process it.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
All of our assumptions have turned out to be wrong. Here are four things we've learned since then:
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2017 GMT (0417 HKT)
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been frozen in the public mind by four images.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Adrianne Haslet-Davis' life as a dancer was shattered last year at the Boston Marathon bombings.
March 24, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
A man who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon attack is engaged to the woman he was waiting for at the finish line.
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Mistaken identity in the hospital added to her family's grief.
April 24, 2013 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The slain MIT cop "was born to be a police officer."
April 19, 2013 -- Updated 0237 GMT (1037 HKT)
The graduate student from China followed her passion to Boston.
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 0510 GMT (1310 HKT)
Almost a year ago, 8-year-old Martin Richard wrote four simple words on a sign at school: No more hurting people.
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Mery Daniel couldn't wait for Marathon. It was one of the things the aspiring doctor and Haitian immigrant loved most about living in Boston.
May 2, 2013 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
After twin blasts shook Boston -- killing three and wounding more than 260 others -- investigators sprung into action looking for those responsible.
April 28, 2013 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
The black Mercedes SUV sped down Spruce Street going about 70 mph, the driver struggling to maintain control. The vehicle had a busted headlight and flat tire.
Click through our galleries of the Boston Marathon bombing, from perspectives on the attack to the suspects, as well as the manhunt and celebrations in Boston after both suspects were found.