Social Media Profiles Shed Light on Accused Boston Marathon Bombers

  • April 19, 2013

The information in this story is based on social media accounts that appear to belong to the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, but it is not possible at this time to independently confirm that these were their accounts.

Even as the manhunt for suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev continues, a portrait of him and his brother Tamerlan has begun to emerge. While it is far too early to ascertain the ideology of the suspects or their reason for targeting the Marathon, a close examination of what appears to be the brothers' social media profiles and online interests indicates some fascination with militancy, Islam and the region of Chechnya in Russia.

The brothers identify themselves on social media and in interviews as ethnic Chechens, and Dzhokhar, 19, claims that he attended school in Mahachkala, Dagestan in the Russian Caucasus until 2001 before moving to the U.S. He later attended the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In March 2012, Dzhokhar wrote on his Twitter account: "A decade in America already, I want out."

Dzhokhar AKA Jahar AKA Djohar Tsarnaev

Former high school classmates have indicated that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev maintained a very active Twitter profile beginning in October 2011. Many of the posts on that account are typical of a teenager in the United States, including tweets about his interest in girls and sexual relationships, being hungry, angst about school and smoking marijuana.

Dzhokhar was tweeting as recently as the day after the attack, April 16th, with messages such as "I'm a stress free kind of guy" and "So then I says to him, I says, relax bro my beard is not loaded."

He also tweeted about pride in Chechnya and plans to visit there last summer. The background image for his Twitter page contains the logo of his hometown soccer team FC Anzhi Makhachkala. There are also several tweets that indicate Dzhokhar's religious observance, including re-tweets of messages about Islam, references to his being hungry during Ramadan, and tweets about attending a mosque.

As has been the case with other U.S.-based terrorists, Dzhokhar expressed anti-Israel sentiments on at least one occasion, tweeting "Free Palestine" on his page shortly after the cessation of violence related to Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

Dzhokhar apparently also maintained an account on the Russian social networking site, which was last accessed on the evening of April 18. He seems to have only authored three posts on the wall: a posting of his profile picture, a joke, and a link to a video making fun of Caucasian accents, all of which were posted over a year ago. Just ten days ago, however, Dzhokhar added links to several videos, including one about the Syrian revolution that expressed support for the rebels and another that was an interview between a sheikh and a blind child about how one can enter paradise with the proper faith.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tamerlan, 26, was previously an engineering student at Bunker Hill Community College, and was active on social media as well.

Tamerlan appears to have a registered YouTube account, which was last updated two months ago, when he subscribed to the channel "Allah is the One الله." Although he did not upload any videos himself, he did create playlists, including one titled "Terrorists" and another called "Islam." Both videos linked to under "Terrorists" had previously been deleted by YouTube, although the playlist gives an indication of his interests. Two of the videos posted under "Islam" have extremist links. One features radical cleric Feiz Mohammed, who appeared in a Channel 4 (UK) documentary on extremist mosques in Britain in which he was filmed urging children to fight and become warriors. The other, called "The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags from Khorasan," advocates for joining an Islamic army to help establish an Islamic Caliphate. The video claims that jihad is already in place and "no one can stop the jihad." The Black Flags are often used as a symbol of Islamic militants. Separately, Tamerlan "liked" other videos by Feiz Mohammed.

An interview with Tamerlan, published online as part of a photo montage while he was training for the 2009 Golden Gloves boxing competition, revealed Tamerlan's difficulty assimilating into American culture. He is quoted in the interview saying, "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them." He also expressed support for Chechen independence from Russia. Tamerlan self-identified as being "very religious" and said he did not drink or smoke in accordance with some tenets of Islam. He also expressed his fears that "there are no values anymore" and that "people can't control themselves."

According to the interview, Tamerlan and his family fled Chechnya in the early 1990s and lived in Kazakhstan before coming to the United States as refugees in 2004. As of 2009, Tamerlan had not yet attained U.S. citizenship, but expressed his desire to do so in order to compete on the U.S. Olympic team.

An "Wish List" that appears linked to Tamerlan, last updated in 2007, included a number of books on forging identification and other documents, as well as several books on the conflict in Chechnya.

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