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Bombing suspect burial divides Virginia residents

But Tsarnaev’s interment is legal, sheriff says

Police were monitoring the wooded Virginia cemetery where a Marathon bombing suspect has been buried.

JAY PAUL/GETTY IMAGES

Police were monitoring the wooded Virginia cemetery where a Marathon bombing suspect has been buried.

DOSWELL, Va. — Even after Tamerlan Tsarnaev was finally buried Thursday, his body’s presence under a small, unmarked mound of clay-colored earth here continues to cause divisions.

The schoolteacher who donated the land that holds Tsarnaev’s remains considers himself blessed; a Richmond imam calls the interment “irresponsible;” and police are monitoring a tiny cemetery tucked in the pine woods far from the capital city’s high-crime areas.

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“It’s something that’s bringing a lot of negative reaction and attention to people who are not connected to the affair,” said Ammar Amonette, the imam at the Islamic Center of Virginia, the largest mosque in Richmond.

Amonette, whose mosque lies in a comfortable middle-class neighborhood, said he is wary of the consequences of the burial. When asked if he expects a backlash against the area’s estimated 10,000-plus Muslims, he hedged his reply.

“I don’t believe we’re going to be affected, but you never know,” the imam said outside the mosque Saturday. “There’s always some sick individual out there.”

Tsarnaev was interred Thursday, facing toward Mecca, after a week long controversy in which cemeteries in at least three states, as well as the cities of Boston and Cambridge, Mass., refused to accept the body of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect.

In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick described the search as a “circus” that had drawn the focus away from the victims of the April 15 bombings, which killed three people and injured 265.

Tsarnaev, 26, died after an early-morning shoot-out with police April 19 in Watertown. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured that night and is being held on terrorism charges in a federal prison hospital in Ayer.

In Doswell on Saturday, the man who donated the land for Al-Barzakh Muslim Cemetery about 15 years ago spoke of the burial that took place beside his modest home as a soul-enriching, religious duty.

“The person is one thing; the body is another,” said Charles H. Abdel-Alim, 63, as he took a break from yard chores. “Once we heard of this, the obligation came to us. I feel ashamed that they had to come all the way down here.”

As he worked, a Caroline County sheriff’s deputy and Virginia state trooper drove slowly down the narrow gravel- and-dirt road to the acre-size cemetery where about 50 people are buried. Besides the purring of the cruiser engines, the stillness was punctuated only by the occasional sound of gunfire from nearby hunters.

Abdel-Alim said the cemetery has not attracted any protesters, just an occasional visit by the curious to this wooded region 20 miles north of Richmond where the great racehorse Secretariat was born and trained.

“I thank my lord, Allah, that I was part of that brother being buried there,” said Abdel-Alim, an African-American who converted to Islam about 45 years ago.

Carroll Abdul-Malik, a friend who was helping load trash into Abdel-Alim’s pickup truck added his support for Tsarnaev’s interment here. His daughter, Mariam, was the first person buried in the cemetery, he said.

“This man has passed,” Abdul-Malik said. “His judgment is with the Almighty.”

Abdel-Alim said he had not paid much attention to the controversy in Massachusetts, where protesters in Worcester gathered daily outside the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors, the funeral home that had taken Tsarnaev’s remains.

Then, Abdel-Alim said, he got a call last week from the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, which owns the cemetery, saying that Tsarnaev might be buried there. Between 6:30 a.m. Thursday, when he left to teach computer design in the Richmond schools, and the time when he returned, the burial had been completed.

Amonette, the imam, acknowledged the good intentions of local residents who had helped broker the burial here, including Martha Mullen of Richmond, a private citizen who brought together the Islamic funeral services group, Worcester funeral director Peter Stefan, and Worcester police.

But he questioned whether the cemetery will ever be “viable” as a burying ground for other Muslims, and what the impact will be on the families of others buried there.

“If this is something that had to be done, at least we should have been given some notification,” said Amonette, who grew up in a military family, converted to Islam decades ago, and studied theology in Saudi Arabia. “They did something that affects all of us. These are good folks, but this is a public matter.”

Amonette said Muslims in the Richmond area have good relations with people of other faiths, but offered an example of how far they have come. When construction began on the Islamic center in 1985, he said, a neighbor protested by standing in front of a bulldozer that had arrived to clear the land.

The standoff ended, Amonette said, and the mosque is now seen as an integral part of the community.

Caroline County Sheriff Tony Lippa, whose deputies are including the cemetery in their patrols, said late Saturday afternoon that the surveillance is meant to prevent a traffic hazard at the site and to reassure residents that police are watching.

Lippa also said that social media are being monitored for indications that the cemetery might become a target. “We’ll do our job,” Lippa said.

Earlier Saturday, Lippa said that Caroline County authorities had reviewed Tsarnaev’s burial documents and that the interment “appears to be legal.”

Lippa said he was up until 3 a.m. Saturday examining paperwork from the burial and transfer of the body to the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia.

“It appears at this point, from the documentations that we have here [that] the funeral home transportation of the body has been done properly,” Lippa said.

Lippa said that local residents, like people across the country, were outraged by the Boston Marathon bombings.

“We too mourned for the loss of life, prayed for the survivors, and offered our support,” he said. “Unfortunately, we now find ourselves forever connected to this tragedy in the most unsavory way – as the final resting place of one of the alleged terrorists.”

Matt Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.
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