An emerging portrait of the brothers accused in the Boston Marathon bombings suggested that the older of the two, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, embraced a more radical form of Islam in recent years.
But scholars cautioned Friday against concluding that the Tsarnaevs’ motives were purely religious. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a firefight with police early Friday morning, appeared to sympathize with Islamic extremists agitating for Chechen independence from Russia.
Family, friends, and social media sources painted a complex picture of the brothers’ religiosity, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev seemed to never have fully integrated into American society.
“These seem like self-styled, wannabe jihadists,”said Yuri Zhukov,a fellow at the Program on Global Society and Security at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center who studies extremism in the Caucasus.“They have sympathy for some of the symbols and some of the rhetoric employed by the Caucasus extremists, and they may sympathize with some of their political goals, but there is no formal link.”
As dawn broke to news that the suspected perpetrators of Monday’s attacks identified as Muslim, local Islamic leaders decried the attack in the strongest terms.
“We don’t see these people as community members; we see these people as criminals and as enemies of our society,” said Imam William Suhaib Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, the city’s largest mosque.
“Neither suspect has been to Yusuf Mosque, nor would any such individuals be welcome here,” said Imam Ibrahim Rahim, leader of the mosque in Brighton. “Our hearts and prayers remain with the victims, the wounded, and their families.”
The main mosques in Boston and Cambridge were closed Friday because officials urged people to stay home amid the unprecedented manhunt.
“This will open the door to the Islamophobic industry, an industry of ill-educated bigots, to attack Muslim communities,” said the Islamic Society’s Imam William Suhaib Webb, who posted a “Letter of Love to the Boston Community” on his Facebook page Friday.
“What is needed now is meeting hate with love, trials with patience, and fear with increased worship,” Webb wrote in the letter.
“Our track record speaks volumes to the dedication we have to our city, our heart, Boston.”
Evidence suggests that the Tsarnaev brothers did not grow up in a particularly religious household and that they were not strongly observant when they arrived in the United States.
A friend said he was served alcohol in the brothers’ home and that their mother did not wear a hijab, the head covering many observant women wear.
Ashraful Rahman, a schoolmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother, said he last saw his friend at the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge last year during Ramadan, but Smail Senni, an assistant imam, said the family was all but unknown to the mosque’s tight-knit community of about 300 to 400 members. Attending Friday prayer is an obligation for observant Muslim men.
A photo series of Tamerlan Tsarnaev shows him boxing with a womanwearing spandex and a tank top, something most orthodox Muslim men would consider inappropriate. Rahman described Dzhokhar as a “stoner.”
A couple of years ago, neighbors and family said, Tamerlan Tsarnaev seemed to become more religious. An aunt told the AP that the older brother began to pray five times a day.
A neighbor said Tamerlan Tsarnaev also briefly exchanged his urban look for religious dress, a long white robe, and beard. But he also said the transformation came as soon as it went: Tamerlan Tsarnaev shaved the beard about a month after he grew it.
In any case, said Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, religious observance does not imply extremist views.“In order to have religious indoctrination as a real cause, we need to look for something more intense than simply praying,” Pape said.
In early 2012, Tamerlan Tsarnaev made a brief return to Dagestan, the restive, predominantly Muslim region of Russia where his family lives.
A YouTube page created by someone named Tamerlan Tsarnaev in August 2012 — and who adopted the user name Muazseyfullah, or “Muaz sword of God” — suggests the user had begun dabbling in radical Islamism. It could not be confirmed that the page belonged to the bombing suspect.
If it did, it presents a mixed picture. Anumber of videos featureFeiz Mohammed, a controversial Australian fundamentalist sheik — like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a former boxer — who has drawn criticism for suggesting that women are responsible for their own rape and calling for the radicalization of children.
Another is a slick production that invokes the apocalyptic symbolism of Al Qaeda. Other videos, labeled “terrorists,” are no longer viewable.
Butthe YouTubepage also includes music videos featuring Timur Mutsuraev, a singer who is a hero to those fighting for Chechen independence, sympathizing with the insurgents seeking independence from Russia.
Fundamentalist Wahhabis see music as “the work of the devil,” suggesting Tsarnaev had not fully embraced Taliban-style religiosity, said Monica Duffy Toft, a professor at the University of Oxford. “It’s a combination of nationalism mixed with self-styled jihadism, and some young men who had a hard time adapting to American culture.”
Although friends and family members said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was well-liked,they cast his older brother as a dark figure and a bad influence.
Pape disagreed that religion or alienation motivated the brothers.He said the suspects bore a striking resemblance to the four men responsible for the 2005 London bombings of transit targets, who by all appearances led well-adjusted and happy middle-class lives until they began, together, to watch videos about the plight of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That anger began to spiral,” he said. “There were times they tried to go to local mosques to have meetings, but the Muslim leaders wouldn’t have them.
“It’s political activism gone wrong,”Pape said.