By James D. Zirin
With the brothers Tsarnaev positively identified by the seemingly irrefutable evidence of electronic surveillance as the perpetrators of the Boston massacre, the key question becomes what was their motivation. Officials say that 19-year old Dzokhar Tsarnaev told investigators at his hospital bedside that he helped plant the bombs, and that he and his older brother, Tamerlan, were motivated by extremist Islamist hatred of the United States, arising out of our perceived conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Officials also say there appears to be no evidence of any contact between the brothers and known terrorist groups. Yet Tamerlan visited Russia a year ago where he easily could have made contact with a terrorist network ready, willing and able to fund his activities in the United States. The FBI should not be so quick to accept these uncorroborated explanations at face value, and must delve deeper into the motivation. The evidence will be out there, and the sure way to find it is to follow the money.
The case is riddled with unanswered questions. Were the brothers two crazies acting alone or pawns in a broader game? Who are the others who may be involved, whether inciters, trainers or command and control? Was it the brothers, who chose to bomb the Boston Marathon, or was it someone else? Where did they learn to make the crude bombs from pressure cookers designed more to maim than to kill, and detonate them so effectively? They told their carjack victim they were headed for New York. What did they plan to do there? More interestingly, whom did they plan to see?
President Obama has cautioned us to withhold our judgment until the facts have been developed, and this is wise counsel. There is little privacy left in American life, and perhaps under the circumstances, this is a good thing. Cell phone and credit card records may show where the brothers were at relevant times, whom they contacted, and who contacted them.
The Internet may be relevant in all this—a tool for good or evil, recipes for pressure cookers, ball bearings or nails. So the hard drives of the Tsarnaev computers may show what websites they visited, what items they bought, whom they emailed and what bloggers they read. These may be the clues to their radicalization, and how the incitement went operational. It all may be recorded on a cloud in cyberspace.
All this may produce relevant information, but the most promising investigative tool is to follow the money. And there should be a harvest of information out there. The brothers had no visible means of support since Tamerlan, the elder, turned more seriously to Islam about five years ago. Yet, there was enough money there to finance an apartment they shared, which was the apparent bomb factory, boxing training for Tamerlan at the Camp Get Right Boxing gym in Worcester, and a six-month trip to Russia last year. It was this visit that apparently attracted the attention of Russian security officers. There was enough money to purchase what police described as a “small arsenal of guns and ammunition,” more than enough to attack the Marathon, and even launch future attacks, which the pair are believed to have anticipated. There was enough money for the illegal handguns, an M-4 carbine rifle, at least 80 rounds of ammunition fired at police officers, as well as the pressure cooker weapons of mass destruction used in the attack and the pipe bombs thrown at the pursuing police.
The brothers apparently had credit cards. What do the credit card applications show? How did two unemployed young men convince the credit card companies that they had the wherewithal to make payments? Did they have bank accounts? What do the bank records show? Did they have credit with local merchants? How did they satisfy creditors as to their financial capacity? Tamerlan’s wife and child had obvious medical expenses? How did they pay the bills? What do insurance records show? All this costs money, and the money trail may lead to some fascinating conclusions and shed further light on motivation.
Meanwhile Tamerlan is dead, and Dzokhar is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, which left three dead and hundreds more maimed or injured, not to mention MIT Police officer Sean Collier, whom they allegedly shot dead with an illegal handgun. Dzokhar will be appropriately tried in a federal court where prosecutors may seek the death penalty. Why they did it and whether others were involved remain to be seen. Of one thing we can be sure. Islamist terror will not end with the death and arrest of the brothers Tsarnaev.
James D. Zirin is a New York lawyer and host of the cable TV talk show Digital Age.
[Photo courtesy of Vjeran Pavic]