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Chechen Brothers Suspected in Boston Bombings

Aired April 19, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. We're watching the police activity in Boston, keeping an eye on it in the corner of the screen, as you can see there. And we will go to it the second there's a new development.

But let's pause for a moment and just take a look at the teenager who is the target of this massive manhunt, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.

His older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a police shootout Thursday night. But Dzhokhar escaped and went on the run. And as yet, there's no known motive for the attack. But here's what we know about the Tsarnaev brothers.

They are ethnically Chechen, though it is not clear whether they ever lived in Chechnya. That's the Russia republic which has since the '90s been torn by separatist struggle as it tries to break away from Russia. And that spawned an increasingly military and radicalized movement in the region.

We do know that they lived with their family in Dagestan, another Russian republic, and in other Central Asian states. Dzhokhar was 8 when he came here to the United States with the family in 2002. And he became an American citizen this past September.

Now those who know him say that he's very friendly and that he remains proud of his heritage. But last April he tweeted, "How I miss my homeland, Dagestan, Chechnya."

He went to high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he's currently enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

His older brother, Tamerlan, reportedly came to the United States later in 2006 at age 20 and sources say he studied at a community college and had a passion for boxing.

A photographer documented Tamerlan's boxing practice for a photo essay that was published online. And friends say that he wanted to be a competitive boxer.

Their father, who is now in Dagestan, told the AP today, "Dzhokhar is an angel," and he told ABC News that he wants his son to give himself up now.

Their uncle, who lives here in the United States, called his nephews "losers," but he also appealed to Dzhokhar to give himself up.


RUSLAN TSARNI, UNCLE OF TSARNAEV BROTHERS: I say, Dzhokhar, if you're alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness from the victims, from the injured and from those who lived. Ask forgiveness from these people who are not requiring forgiveness from this family.

He put a shame -- he put a shame on our family, on the Tsarnaev family. He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity, because everyone now blames, they blame the word Chechen. So they put that shame on the entire ethnicity.


AMANPOUR: Now the uncle confirmed that the family is Muslim and Chechnya is predominantly Muslim. Now many acts of terrorism have been blamed on Chechen radicals, but mostly in Russia. The latest was a suicide bombing in a Moscow subway station that killed 39 people in 2010. There have been no incidents of Chechen violence in the United States.

The Chechen president, the Putin-backed strongman, Ramzan Kadira, insisted that these boys have nothing to do with Chechnya. Today, he said, they learned everything they knew from America.

Boston radio host Robin Young knew Dzhokhar. Her nephew was a high school friend of his and she hosted him at a party in her home. She joined me to talk about him on the telephone a short while ago.


AMANPOUR: Robin, thank you very much for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Let's take it from the beginning. You tweeted that your heart was broken, that he was a good friend, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, of your beloved nephew, and that your nephew had no idea of all of this that may have been Tsarnaev.

What -- do you know him yourself, Dzhokhar?

YOUNG: Oh, yes, of course. I mean, I remember him from the prom party. I had the prom party for these kids in my back yard, dozens of kids who very smartly rented a trolley so they wouldn't have to drive. And we had the photo-taking party in the back yard. I remember him in his tuxedo, beautiful head of black, curly hair.

My nephew is stunned. These kids are stunned. And I know it's such a cliche, but, you know, lighthearted, just you know, very well liked and also a good student. He was -- he had a city, Cambridge City scholarship. He was athlete of the year in 2011. That's no small thing. This school produced Patrick Ewing, the basketball player.

And Christiane, I -- one other thing I want to say -- I know some wire services are calling Cambridge Rindge and Latin the school a prestigious high school. We love the school.

But let's be clear: it is a very public school right near Harvard in that town, in Cambridge, a lot of people send their kids to private schools. This was the public school. The kids in this school spoke 45 languages among them.

Every single nationality represented; they're so proud of their diversity. People have been asking me, well, it was Chechen, that must be Muslim. Nobody would have noticed or cared. It's such a diverse school.

AMANPOUR: And that's precisely what I want to ask about, because some are saying, you know, they were difficult to assimilate; they didn't have many friends. Tell me about Dzhokhar. Did he feel American?

YOUNG: I saw him at this party. First of all, there's also reports that they've only been here a year. We've known Dzhokhar since he was much younger. I've known him all through high school at least and probably middle school before that.

You know, he was the life of the party. Maybe the older brother, who's much older -- 26 -- but Dzhokhar -- this was a group of maybe 50 very close friends. And he was front and center with them.

AMANPOUR: Did he feel Americanized to you?

YOUNG: Sure. I mean, he was on the wrestling team. He -- I don't know how else to say. You know, he wore his cap backwards. And the funny thing is we did not -- of course, we didn't recognize him actually. I haven't seen him in over a year. But my nephew's been texting with him up until I think the Super Bowl and detected nothing. In fact, when I said, "Was he a radical? Did he ever..."

I mean, kids can be radicalized in high school, you know, take on issues.

He said, "He was the opposite." It was exactly the opposite. And I - - you know, the only thing I can -- this is speculation, but he had an older brother . And I wonder if it was perhaps an older brother who radicalized him. But that's just me speculating based on who I knew, who it would seem impossible.

AMANPOUR: And Robin, did he talk about where he came from? Did he talk about Dagestan, Chechnya, Russia?

YOUNG: He wouldn't have to me, you know, at prom parties. I'm the aunt, you know, who -- but he -- Dolan (ph) says no. It just -- and, again, this school, you have to understand: everybody came from somewhere. For instance, it wasn't unusual.

AMANPOUR: What do we know about him right now, do you think?

YOUNG: Well, I mean, we know he's at loose so I'm -- you know, we're all very nervous. I mean, we've all been in a newsroom overnight, which is sometimes the worst place to be to report on a story. But you know, the city's in lockdown. There's no mass transit in a city that depends on it. People are being told not to leave their homes.

You know, the timeline, which you know, there was an armed robbery. That's the image that everybody recognized him from. When the image from the armed robbery late last night came out, his friends knew that was him.

Then, of course, at MIT, a policeman was shot. Then there was the unbelievable car chase with them allegedly throwing explosives out of the car, a huge gunfight. I mean, parts of this area have seen -- the sound of the gunfights, it's a war zone.

AMANPOUR: I know. Robin, it's just -- it's just so extraordinary to think they're pretty heavily armed. If they've really been throwing grenades out of cars and this is going on, and apparently they may -- at least Dzhokhar may still be armed. He's certainly on the loose.

When did you last see him? And do you know what he was doing in that intervening time?

YOUNG: I -- no. It's -- again, I'm the aunt and -- or aunt up here - - and I am looking at a picture of him at graduation, 2011, and with my nephew. That's the last I've seen him. My nephew had seen him other times, you know, get-togethers. As I said, they just were texting about the Super Bowl. My nephew was going to go over.

AMANPOUR: Anything else?

YOUNG: No, it's just that as you always hear. It's stunning. And I think the thing that's hurting me the most, of course, these, you know, what happened to our town, you know, if you think first and foremost of these people, we're hearing now that Jeffrey Bauman (ph), who's one of the double amputees, looked him right in the eye, looked Dzhokhar right in the eye when he put that bag down and a minute later it exploded and took Jeffrey Bauman's (ph) legs off.

To think that he looked into the eyes of someone I looked into the eyes, too, at a prom party, and thought he was a beautiful boy and that he might have done this is sickening. It's stomach-turning. And I just feel for these kids. You need to know, these are good kids at a great school that does great stuff for a public school. And that's also sickening, that this is how they're known now.

AMANPOUR: Robin Young, thank you very much indeed.

YOUNG: OK. Take care.

AMANPOUR: And joining me now on the phone is another friend of Dzhokhar from New Bedford, Massachusetts, and his name is Christian Trippe. Christian is a student at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth and a classmate and a teammate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

We're talking to him from his home and by phone because his campus was evacuated as part of the manhunt for Dzhokhar, which is part of this story that everyone just about in Boston and particular areas is in lockdown.

So, Christian, thank you for joining me by phone. Let me ask you first what do you know about Dzhokhar?

CHRISTIAN TRIPPE, TEAMMATE OF DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV: Dzhokhar was a great kid. I met him the first day of school. Found out he was engineering, just like me, and you know, from there we started hanging out.

AMANPOUR: And you were classmates and teammates at soccer?

TRIPPE: Yes, sure.

AMANPOUR: And tell me -- describe with me, was he a team player? Was he somebody who -- you heard Robin Young talk about he was the life of the party. Was he like that in school with you?

TRIPPE: Yes. He was very talkative. I could always ask him to hang out, you know, during our soccer games he always wanted to, you know, make sure everyone was there at the game, you know, make sure we did well, you know. (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: We're looking at a picture just now, and we see the soccer team. And you were standing in the background there and Dzhokhar was kneeling in the front.

When did you last see him?

TRIPPE: I saw Dzhokhar a couple weeks ago at the gym.

AMANPOUR: How did he seem?


TRIPPE: (Inaudible) -- we talked about classes, normal stuff.

AMANPOUR: How did he seem to you?

TRIPPE: He seemed normal. I mean, you know, it was -- the other semester, we were all -- we were all engineering majors, strung out from all the work we've done all semester. So I mean, other than that, he seemed perfectly normal.

AMANPOUR: You know, when we try to figure out in these aftermaths, we try to get as much information and sort of amateur psychology into somebody's character as possible.

Did he feel to you that he was assimilated, that he was Americanized? Did he ever seem that he was alienated from America or angry about America?

TRIPPE: No. He never expressed any discontent with America or anything. I know one thing he wanted to do after graduating college and doing engineering was to go back to Chechnya and help (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Did he say -- help what?

TRIPPE: Help -- he was a civil engineering major, so (inaudible) help with making (inaudible) and such and with the integrity (inaudible) structures there.

AMANPOUR: And did he say anything else about Chechnya? Did he talk about the politics? Did he talk about, you know, the struggle that we know that's gone on there for so many years now?

TRIPPE: Yes, he has -- you know, he is -- he was very prideful of his home country. But you know, nothing out of the ordinary.

AMANPOUR: And who did he hang out with? Obviously you were friends with him. But what sort of a group of students did he hang out with?

TRIPPE: There were also some other -- there were four exchange students who were Kazakhstan who also spoke Russian. So having that in common and having to be able to speak his own home language, I think that drew them closer and such.

AMANPOUR: Did he say anything about his brother, who seems to have been, you know, at least seven years older than him. Did he say anything about him? And did you ever meet the brother, by chance?

TRIPPE: I did not, actually, meet his brother. But he did speak pretty highly of him. He was very proud that he was a very good boxer and he was working hard to attain all of his goals and help support Dzhokhar as well.

AMANPOUR: And what's happening where you are right now? You're in lockdown; you can't move. You certainly can't go to your campus, U. Mass. And there have been helicopters and the like landing there over the last hour or so.

Are you aware of what's going on?

TRIPPE: I'm not very aware of what is going on. I was told that there was another arrest. I don't know if it was directly related to the bombings or not. But as of now, the campus has been completely evacuated. Our campus is closed tomorrow and no one is allowed back on campus.

AMANPOUR: Well, Christian Trippe, thank you very much for joining us and helping to paint a slightly fuller picture of Dzhokhar, who remains on the run.

And we'll be back with more of our continuous coverage on the manhunt in Boston.

But before we do, we take a look at this picture. That's the White House Situation Room, where President Obama is seen meeting today with his national security team to monitor the events in Boston. And we'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and our ongoing coverage of the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Now I had mentioned earlier that his father, who is now in Dagestan, had called his son "an angel," and had asked his son to give himself up now. We've just got some tape of an interview that was conducted with the father in Dagestan. Let's listen to what he's saying.


ANZOR TSARNAYEV, FATHER OF TSARNAEV BROTHERS: Someone framed them. I don't know who exactly did it, but someone did. And being cowards, they shot the boy dead. There are cops like this.


AMANPOUR: Well, that is what the family is saying. We heard it from the aunt earlier and now the father is saying this, they simply cannot believe that their boys would have done this and would have been considered suspects in this terrible bombing in Boston.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is following the investigation from Washington.

Barbara, welcome; you just heard what the father has said. You can imagine that no family member can believe that their child would be a suspect in something like this.

What is the investigating -- the investigation showing you right now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Christiane, here in Washington, both the U.S. intelligence community -- the CIA, military intelligence -- and law enforcement -- the FBI -- are joining forces. They are going back through everything they have of intelligence reports, intercepts, chatter, jihadist website postings, social media, looking at every possible link to these two young men.

Where were they on the Internet? Who were they communicating with? What were their travel plans? We know one of them went to Russia -- trying to develop this spider web, if you will, of connections, trying to see where they may have interacted with someone who may have influenced them, ordered them to do this.

You know, that's really the option here. Were they inspired by militants? Were they ordered? Were they part of a group? Right now they don't think so. Or were these two young men that somehow just decided on their own to carry this out?

AMANPOUR: What do they think, that it -- that it was that, the latter? Or the --

STARR: Well, yes, you know, I think at the moment, with the sources I'm talking to, do not see an immediate Al Qaeda connection or a connection to a major Al Qaeda affiliate. Right now, what they're looking at, basically is Central Asia.

The groups that operate in Central Asia, could they have been communication with some of these groups? Were they interacting with them on social media? Did they begin to influence these men?

I have to tell you that one U.S. official with access to the latest information told me a short time ago, at the moment, they do not believe that this attack poses a major new terrorist threat to the United States.

That doesn't close the chapter on any of this. There's still a great deal of concern about how all this could have happened; they are still looking at everything. But right now, I would say that's pretty much where it stands.

AMANPOUR: And as you said, they are combing through the sort of modern-day database, if you like, the Twitter, the Facebook, the YouTube, all these online postings. It is obviously so much easier to get a hold of anything like that these days, of being influenced if you are susceptible.

STARR: Well, you know, I think that's right. You know, if you think of it just a few short years ago, the worry was that you had militants, perhaps, in madrassas, in parts of the world that were very radical and they were being radicalized when they would travel to these madrassas or to the training camps. It doesn't even take that anymore.

You don't have to leave your own house. If you have a social media account in any one of many places, you are communication with people around the world instantly. You could be influenced by all of that. Many more connections perhaps some of them very tenuous, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: I mean, it's possible that it could have absolutely nothing to do with anything overseas, is it?

STARR: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I will tell you the sources I'm talking to are saying be very cautious before you go out there and start talking about things like Al Qaeda or major Al Qaeda affiliates. You know, there's so much out there; these two young men, apparently, had ethnic connections to -- family connections in Central Asia, ethnic connections to Chechnya.

And we know that Chechen fighters are in many movements around the world, including in Syria right now. So very easy to leap to conclusions. That's exactly what we're being warned away from. They're saying be very cautious; this could take a while. Investigators want to take it step by step and be very precise.

AMANPOUR: And what are they saying -- I mean, you're also looking not just at the big picture but the close picture of what's happening in the Boston area right now. Is there anything you can update us with on the state of this manhunt right now? Are they closing in on somebody or something or more than one person?

STARR: Well, you know, very tough to say, because we're not being told a lot. But clearly law enforcement, thousands of law enforcement officers on the streets of Boston -- federal, state, local -- the National Guard is there, trying to keep people safe as they do narrow the manhunt. A lot of talk about there may be a third person, may be another accomplice.

But I think right now law enforcement is staying very tightlipped about all of it. I think they want to get it wrapped up. And certainly before nightfall tonight in Boston.

AMANPOUR: Let's just go back a little bit to Monday, when this terrible thing happened and we're all trying to figure out what was it. And of course, we were saying that there was no quote-unquote "chatter," that nothing had been picked up by law enforcement, by the CIA, et cetera.

There was no signature that this bomb is very different from other IEDs or obviously suicide bombings that we've all reported on in the past. You know, is that strange that there was no chatter? Is it strange that this was fairly rudimentary?

STARR: I think that's a really key point. No chatter, nothing that pointed to anything in those initial days, because perhaps they really didn't know where to look.

What we are hearing is once the FBI identified these two men yesterday and it became known in recent hours that their family background was from Central Asia, was from near Chechnya and Russia, that allowed the U.S. intelligence community and the FBI to focus more directly on what they knew about what was going on in that area and who some of the actors are in that region.

That's allowed them to begin to try and construct this spider web of where these two men may have gone, may have interacted with potential militants.

As for the weapons, you know, this pressure cooker IED, not seen in the United States, of course, until now really, but has been seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, many areas in that part of the world. It is something that law enforcement there certainly have seen before. It's going to get a lot of scrutiny.

AMANPOUR: You know, we were talking with some colleagues before coming on the air. And you know, I mean, could this guy be dead of a self- inflicted wound right now? I mean, is it possible that he's not alive?

STARR: I think all things are possible. I think that's a very good point. You know, and they are going to have to look for him till they find him, one way or the other. You know, right now, certainly the police presence, the law enforcement presence on the streets of Boston indicates this is still a very active, very critical investigation at a very active crime scene.

AMANPOUR: And finally, Barbara, does the law enforcement and the CIA community and all these who look and sort of study around the world where the threats are, do they look to Central Asia? Is that big on the radar, you know, before it was -- you know, we knew that they had the Chechen ethnicity?

STARR: Well, you know, there has been, as you were just saying a few moments ago, this longstanding very sad number of years of violence in Chechnya due to their situation with the Russians.

So that's one thing. There are Islamic Al Qaeda-related movements across Central Asia, some of them being very closely watched by the CIA because they have seen Chechen fighters migrate across the world into other areas to fight with Al Qaeda in Pakistan, in Syria right now, Iraq, other places. Chechens have turned up in an awful lot of places where Al Qaeda fights over the years.

So that has been something that's been very closely watched. Whether these two young men have any relationship to all of that is a completely other question that there's no answer to yet.

AMANPOUR: Precisely, and we are not making that link. Thank you very much indeed, Barbara Starr. Thanks a lot.

STARR: Sure.

AMANPOUR: And I want to turn now to Tom Fuentes, who is the assistant director for the FBI and is a law enforcement analyst at CNN.

Mr. Fuentes, thank you for being with us.

Is there any latest on this particular manhunt, before I go into the bigger picture with you?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, they're still methodically going through the apartments, trying to clear each one very deliberately and carefully. The police say they are now about 70 percent completed through that process.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, given all your experience and knowing that this has been so viewed all over the place for the last, you know, several days, could this boy, this teenager, have taken his own life in the interim?

FUENTES: He could have. You know and it's a strong possibility that he could and would have incentive to do it. I think a great deal of that would depend on the dynamic that existed between him and his older brother. If you look at the videos of them that were released by the FBI yesterday, you know, you see the older brother marching along.

And then you see the younger one kind of, you know, following him, you know, like the older brother is the master. And all of the interviews that have been on CNN today here, you know, in the Boston area, the classmates from high school and other people that knew the younger brother are saying he's so nice, he's been a great friend.

He's an American kid. He came here when he was young and he's been here all these years. And he's one of us. And I think one of his friends even characterized it that way, he's a great American kid.


FUENTES: So that's him. But the brother is much older. The brother came here when he was 20 and that's what we don't know. So if the brother was putting pressure or intimidating or coercing the younger brother to go along with the program, which he may have done, that's one thing. And they go through the attack.

They decide not to commit suicide but enjoy their handiwork and remain at the scene of the bombings and in the midst of the carnage, they're acting like spectators, much like you see arsonists do at a fire. They tend to hang around and watch their handiwork. So they don't martyr themselves at that time.

And then you know, several days go by and, you know, we don't hear from them and efforts are being done to locate them. Then the FBI chooses yesterday afternoon Washington time to release the photos, to release the videos and the photos that they had and that goes all over the world on the Internet and through social media and on websites.

And once that happened, you know, you almost have to believe they must have felt cornered. They must have felt a much greater degree of pressure and know that we know a lot of people are going to look at those pictures and pick us out. And who knows -- who knows who's going to turn us in at this point.

AMANPOUR: From all of your experience and from your gut, having watched this now and being close to knowing what's going on in the FBI circles, are they narrowing it down, do you think, to foreign terrorism as we've been discussing, potentially, or domestic? What does your gut tell you from what you know now?

FUENTES: I don't think they've narrowed that down and want to make that call yet. It seems as though they were not funded, supported or deployed by an overseas organization.

And certainly that helps explain why this many days after the original attack no one overseas took credit for it, unlike when we had the Times Square incident, we had the Pakistani Taliban take credit for it. Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, you had Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula immediately take credit for it.

So this one, it appears like nobody overseas really recruited them or deployed them to do this attack. So somehow they developed this internally on their own. Now whether someone else in the U.S. somehow helped in the radicalization process or whether that helped -- happened on their own, that we don't know yet and that'll, I think, be identified at some point down the line here.

But it seems as though they were inspired maybe by overseas events. But the recruiting and the radicalization process occurred here in the United States and probably locally in the Boston area.

AMANPOUR: Tom Fuentes, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

FUENTES: You're welcome.

AMANPOUR: That is it now for breaking news coverage of the manhunt; it continues in Boston.