– As a picture has begun to emerge of the two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, it was difficult to distinguish them from millions of other young people who go to the United States to forge a future.
One was a boxer who liked Russian rap videos and once said: “I do t have a single American friend.”
The other, an all-star high school wrestler, listed “Islam” as his world view on a Russian social media page, and was described by a neighbour as a very photogenic kid who had a heart of gold.
Now the authorities are scrambling to determine how they might have evolved into terrorists who would plant powerful bombs in a crowd of innocent people. The Tsarnaevs are believed to be of Chechen heritage and to have emigrated from Kyrgyzstan – or another country in the region – with their family to the US in 2002 after living for some time in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, in Russia.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger, graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2011, where he was listed as a Greater Boston League Winter All-Star wrestler. That year, he won a $2500 scholarship awarded to 35 to 45 promising students by the City of Cambridge.
Mahmoud Abu-Rubieh, 17, a student at the high school, said he had known Dzhokhar for almost three years as a friend and a wrestling
Dzhokhar, he said, dressed “like any other student” at school, favouring jeans or khakis, button-ups and T-shirts.
Ashraful Rahman, 17, a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, said that he and two other friends recognised Dzhokhar’s photo on television on Thursday night, and one of them called the FBI’s tip line.
But he said he could not believe that Dzhokhar, whom he met two years ago, could have been involved in the bombing.
He and Dzhokhar have much in common, he said. Both were wrestlers, both enjoyed boxing and both were Muslim. They would occasionally meet at the mosque in Cambridge, a few blocks away from their school, he said.
Dzhokhar’s closest friends were a group known among their classmates as “stoners”, according to Rahman. He described Dzhokhar as laid-back and said that he had assumed he was born in the US because he did not speak with an accent.
Rahman said he last saw Dzhokhar last August, near the end of Ramadan, during prayers at the mosque.
When he was not wrestling, Rahman said, Dzhokhar “was not some testosterone-ridden jock or anything like that, just a cool guy”.
Tamerlan, who died after a shootout with law enforcement officers early on Friday morning, was apparently studying engineering at Bunker Hill Community College when a photographer, Johannes Hirn, chose a young boxer as the subject of an essay for a photo-journalism class at Boston University four or five years ago.
In the essay, the subject, believed to be Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is quoted as saying he had become devoutly religious, having abandoned smoking and drinking.
He sounded alienated from Russia, saying that he would not want to box on the Russian team unless Chechnya achieved independence.
The essay was later published in a university magazine, ‘The Comment’, according to Peter Southwick, director of the photojournalism program, who taught the class.
Tamerlan confessed a love for the movie ‘Borat’ in the essay, and showed off his pointy shoes. “I’m dressed European-style,” Hirn quotes him as saying. In the caption of one photo, showing his muscled upper body, he says that he does not usually take his shirt off in front of women. “I’m very religious ” he says.
His mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told ‘Russia Today’ television program: “My son Tamerlan got involved in religious politics five years ago.
“He started following his own religious aspects. He never, never told me he would be on the side of jihad.”
His younger brother, who was widely known as “Jahar”, may have followed in his footsteps.
Larry Aaronson, a retired social studies teacher at the high school, lived a few houses from the Tsarnaev family on nor loft Street, on the border between Cambridge and Somerville.
He became friendly, with Dzhokhar, who he said he saw often around the neighbourhood but had not seen recently.
Mr Aaronson said he believed Dzhokhar might have gone off to college.
He added: “This comes as a total shock.”
Both young men had a presence on social media. On Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social media platform, Dzhokhar describes his world view as “Islam” and, asked to identify “the main thing in life,” answers: “Career and money.”
He lists a series of affinity groups relating to Chechnya, where two wars of independence against Russia were fought after the Soviet Union collapsed. He also lists a verse from the Koran: “Do good, because Allah loves those who do good.”
The family is part of a Chechen diaspora that states back to 1943, when Stalin deported most of the population of Chechnya from its homeland over concerns the Chechens were collaborating with Nazi Germany’s invading army.
Most retired to Chechnya in the 1950s, after the death of Stalin and the lifting of the deportation order, but some stayed.
Kyrgyzstan’s Chechen diaspora is concentrated in a steppe region on the Kazakh border, near the town of Talas – Erica Goode


About Jumpin' Jack Cash
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