Boston Bombers Were Heading to Times Square

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Days after allegedly causing death and devastation at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the two brothers "spontaneously" decided to head to a new place to unleash terror , New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg reported.

According to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston bombings, told investigators that he and his brother decided to bomb Times Square as they talked the night of April 18 in a Mercedes SUV they had just carjacked.

The 19-year-old initially told investigators from a Boston hospital bed that he and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had talked about going to New York to "party." He then offered a new account during a second round of questioning during which Kelly said Dzhokhar was "a lot more lucid" than the first time he was interviewed.

Dzhokhar, who is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds, was transferred Friday to a hospital in a prison outside of Boston. He reportedly spent 16 hours operating with interrogators but stopped talking after being advised that he had the right to remain silent.

The brothers had five pipe bombs and a "pressure-cooker bomb" similar to the bombs used in the Boston blasts with them in the SUV that they could have used in an attack on New York.

Instead, their plan fell apart when the SUV ran low on fuel in the Boston area and the Tsarnaevs ordered the driver to pull into a gas station, Kelly said. The driver escaped during the refueling and was able to alert the police. Police subsequently caught up with the Tsarnaev brothers through the GPS on the driver's iPhone (which he had left in the car). A shootout left 26-year-old Tamerlan dead. Dzhokhar was later captured.

"We don't know that we would have been able to stop the terrorists had they arrived here from Boston," Mayor Bloomberg said. "We're just thankful that we didn't have to find out that answer."

Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said investigators believe the Boston bombing suspects were planning another attack "likely in the Boston area."

"The notion they decided to go to New York was a rushed event after this thing unraveled on them," the Michigan Republican said.

There is no evidence that New York City is currently a target of a terror attack stemming from the Boston bombings, Kelly added. Still, he said authorities are investigating two visits that the surviving suspect made to New York City last year.

In Washington, the focus remained on intelligence leading up to the Boston Marathon bombing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been on a federal database of potential terrorist suspects and the United States had twice been warned about him by Russian authorities.  Senators emerged from new briefings by the FBI on Capitol Hill with concerns over how a number of US agencies handled the warnings. Congressional testimony this week focused on whether the FBI made mistakes in tracking him.

The FBI and the CIA both investigated the warnings, but concluded the older brother, who visited Dagestan during a six-month trip to Russia in 2012, was not a terrorist threat.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham blamed the administration for failing to stop the attack. "I just know the system is broken. The ultimate blame I think is with the administration," the South Carolina senator told reporters, linking the bombings with last year's killing of a US diplomat during an attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

"Between Benghazi and Boston, to me we're going backwards, not forward, in terms of national security," Graham said.

Meanwhile, new information has emerged that Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, 48, the mother of the bombers, was also placed on a list of potential terrorists in 2011  at the same time as her son Tamerlan. This latest disclosure raises further questions about how U.S. agencies failed to identify Tamerlan as a threat in light of previous disclosures that Russia had contacted the U.S. "multiple times" about him.

At a news conference in the capital of Dagestan, a republic on the Caspian Sea, the brothers’ father, Anzor Tsarnaev, and their mother, Zubeidat repeatedly said that their sons were framed for the deadly blasts.They accused U.S. authorities of killing the older brother in order to put on a display. They insisted that their sons were innocent and had no connections to radical Islamists.

The parents made broad accusations of a conspiracy in which the American authorities killed their older son, Tamerlan, after capturing him alive.

Officials in the United States have said that Tamerlan, 26, died after being shot during a standoff with the police in Watertown, Massachusetts, and then was run over by a vehicle driven by his younger brother as he escaped. Officials have released video showing the brothers near the site of the bombing.

Despite this evidence, and after two days of questioning by FBI agents, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said that she could not accept that her sons were guilty. "No, I don’t, and I won’t,” she said. "Never!"

During an hour-long emotional question and answer session, the parents addressed many of the questions that investigators and the American public had been asking in the days after the bombing, stating that their sons were not religious radicals and were not connected to any militant organizations.

The older brother reportedly had trouble identifying with his adopted country. He was described by a former coach as a talented amateur boxer who dreamed of making the U.S. Olympic team. He was married to Katherine Russell, who works at a social service agency for children, and is the father of a three year old girl. "Our daughter has lost her husband today, the father of her child," said Judith Russell, Katherine's mother.

The parents maintained their sons could not have done such deadly acts of terrorism.

"Somebody clearly framed them. I don't know who exactly framed them, but they did. They framed them. And they were so cowardly that they shot the boy dead," said Anzor Tsarnaev. "It’s impossible, impossible for both of them to do such things," Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said, "I’m really, really, really sure this is a setup. I would know."

"Killed, truly killed," she said, describing the images he saw of him dead that were leaked and circulated on the internet. "I wanted to scream, to scream to the whole world: What did you do? What have you done with my son? He was alive. Why did they need to kill him? Why not send him to Guantánamo or whatever? Why did they kill him? Why did they have to kill him? They got him alive. He was in their hands."

The parents said they regretted having lived in the United States but wanted to return soon to see Dzhokhar, though they expressed fears that they would not be allowed to see him until he is in prison.

"Yes, I would prefer not to live in America now. Like, why did I even go there, why?" Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said, breaking into tears and sobs. "I thought America was going to, like, protect us … My kids, America took my kids away from me."

Although he was born in Russia, Tamerlan had traveled to Dagestan on a passport from Kyrgyzstan, where the family had lived, that was about to expire.  

While the parents insisted that his visit to Dagestan was focused on trying to get a passport, visiting relatives and helping his father, they confirmed that he worshiped occasionally at a mosque that was popular among Salafist Muslims.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org