The arrests this week of three young friends of Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were a depressing reminder of both the local roots of this terrorism plot and the horrifying decisions that went into it. Those friends, 19-year-olds Robel Phillipos, Azamat Tazhayakov, and Dias Kadyrbayev, were current or former classmates of Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. They aren’t accused of knowing about the plot in advance. But when they saw the surveillance photos of their friend on the news, their only action should have been to call police. Instead, prosecutors say, they took Tsarnaev’s backpack — which contained emptied fireworks, one of his homework assignment sheets, and other materials — and threw it in a trash receptacle. Authorities say one of the three, Phillipos, then lied to police when questioned.
The three showed incredibly poor judgment. But the whole narrative confirms that, while the radical motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers — and perhaps, it remains to be seen, some of their training — came from international jihadist movements, the bombing was also the product of family dysfunction, youthful nihilism, and a pattern of low-level crimes escalating into a very major one. These factors in no way lessen the immense suffering that the bombers and any accomplices managed to inflict. But they should influence how the public and the government respond.