WASHINGTON — The alleged Boston Marathon bombers had six more bombs in their car and were on their way to New York City’s Times Square when they were stopped by police in a shootout in Watertown, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security said today, lauding the efforts of local law enforcement in the confrontation.
“Our nation could have been further terrorized. ... New York City could have been hit again,” said Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, as the committee opened a hearing on the response to last year’s bombings.
McCaul asked Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau, and Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese and several other Watertown officers who were involved in the shootout to stand up and be recognized. Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, who also testified, was praised by several lawmakers for his leadership during the crisis.
The hearing, entitled “The Boston Marathon Bombings, One Year On: A Look Back to Look Forward,” focused on the response by law enforcement after the bombings. The hearing also focused on the committee’s recently released report on the response to the bombings that was critical of federal intelligence agencies for missed opportunities to scrutinize the activities of one of the alleged bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in the months before the bombings.
McCaul said the committee in its investigation had found that several “flags and warnings” had been missed and “systemic problems” had led to Tsarnaev falling off “our radar.”
While some agencies have said that detecting Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s increasing radicalization wouldn’t have made any difference in the bombings, McCaul said, “It likely would have been clear that he was becoming more and more of a threat to the community.”
Three people were killed and more than 260 others were injured in the bombings on April 15, 2013. Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, allegedly planted the bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race. They are also accused in the slaying of an MIT police officer.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in the shootout with police in the early morning hours of April 19. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later the same day after a manhunt in Watertown and is awaiting trial on 30 charges in federal court. He has pleaded not guilty. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
McCaul said he hoped the committee’s recommendations could prevent future recurrences of such attacks. He reported that both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are “already constructively implementing the recommendations of this committee’s report.”
In his closing comments, McCaul said “in this particular case, some things fell through the cracks...But these one and two men operations are very difficult to detect and disrupt.’’ He said terror cells made of a very small number of people reflect a “new evolution of terrorism’’ by radical extremists.
He reported that both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are “already constructively implementing the recommendations of this committee’s report.”
Davis told lawmakers that cooperation between federal and local law enforcement has steadily improved in recent years, but more still needs to be done and he urged lawmakers to use the power of federal law to mandate information sharing.
In his written opening statement, Deveau said that “for eight and a half minutes on a back street in Watertown, we were the best police department in the world.’’
Deveau said that for his officers a “seemingly quiet overnight shift suddenly turned into a war zone. Those two brothers were trying to kill my police officers and had plans to kill and injure more innocent people.”
He praised his officers, saying, “Two individuals attempted to strike fear and take down a city. They attempted to terrorize us all. They accomplished nothing. ... We will not be intimidated.”
“We felt on that day — we were all citizens of Boston that day,” said McCaul.
Pugliese, who testified after his chief, provided a brief description of the confrontation in Watertown that ended with Tamerlan Tsarnaev fatally wounded after being shot by police and run over by a car being driven by his brother.
Pugliese summarized how he arrived on the scene where officers were trading shots with the men.
“The suspects were eventually taken into custody,’’ Pugliese told the congressional panel today, adding that he could not elaborate because the criminal case against “one of the suspects” is active. He did not mention Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by name.
Pugliese commended the police officers who were with him that night. “They’re ordinary guys who were put in an extraordinary situation and performed extremely well,’’ Pugliese said.
In their new book, “Long Mile Home,’’ Boston Globe reporters Scott Helman and Jenna Russell wrote that Pugliese was off duty in his family minivan when he arrived at the active shooting scene. He circled through backyards and found himself “mere feet from where Tamerlan was firing away.’’
Pugliese and Tamerlan Tsarnaev exchanged gunfire with “two old Mercedes in a driveway between them,’’ the authors wrote. Pugliese, a retired US Army soldier and the firearms instructor for his department, believes he shot Tsarnaev several times while his opponent fired wildly, spraying the side of the house with gunfire, according to the book.
Pugliese and other officers tackled a fleeing Tamerlan Tsarnaev and were wrestling with him when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev drove into the cluster of people that included his brother. Pugliese was holding onto Tsarnaev’s belt, but at the last moment, after shouted warnings from fellow officers, Pugliese let go, narrowly escaping being hit by the car.
When Tamerlan Tsarnaev came to rest some 30 feet away, Pugliese slapped the handcuffs on him, according to the book.