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Tsarnaev had extremist material on multiple devices, FBI agent testifies

At least a year before the Boston Marathon bombings, teenager Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had a collection of militant materials on his computer, including an instructional article on how to “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” according to testimony in his federal trial Thursday.

The article was featured in Inspire magazine, an English-language online publication sponsored by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Several issues and other pro-jihadi propaganda were found on Tsarnaev’s laptop computer, a desktop computer in his Cambridge home, a hard drive, and on two thumb drives. Similar files showed up on Tsarnaev’s cellphones and iPods.

The extent of the militant material, revealed during testimony Thursday, was elicited by prosecutors in an attempt to show that Tsarnaev did not have an overnight conversion into violent jihadist beliefs, as the defense has suggested. It also showed he had access to pro-jihadi propaganda independent of his brother.


The defense team has already portrayed Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, as the mastermind of the Marathon bombings — the one who openly espoused extreme Islamist views by early 2012 and influenced his younger brother.

Kevin Swindon, a supervisory special agent with the FBI who oversaw the collection of the documents, told jurors Thursday that he could not say that Tsarnaev downloaded or viewed the evidence, testifying only that the investigation “verified they existed on the computer at some point in time, these files were opened or accessed on this computer.”

For more than a year before the bombings, an increasing number of documents encouraging violence began appearing on Tsarnaev’s many electronic devices, such as videos and writings of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born, Yemeni cleric and militant who emerged as a popular Al Qaeda propagandist. Once called the Osama bin Laden of the Internet, he was killed in a US drone strike in 2011.


The collection of documents included pro-militant writings from the Web forum At Tibyan Publications, including “Jihad and the Effects of Intention Upon It,” and “A Message to Every Youth.” He also had writings, including “Join the Caravan,” by Imam Abdullah Azzam, considered the father of jihad.

His musical collections include Nasheeds, or musical chants popular in Islamic culture, including “Nasheed for Mujahideen,” or Muslim freedom fighters.

The material is interspersed with Tsarnaev’s everyday Internet searches, papers for college classes, and a resume in which he described himself as a “great swimmer, social, nice.”

Tsarnaev’s lawyers are slated to question Swindon on Monday, and will probably focus on his acknowledgment that other people could have had access to those electronic devices.

The dates of Tsarnaev’s interest in extremism will be relevant to both sides.

The defense team has argued that, around the time some of the documents were downloaded, in August 2011, Tsarnaev’s personal life was in upheaval. That summer, his parents divorced and both left for Dagestan, where they had lived before emigrating to the United States.

The next month, Tsarnaev started college at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and when he returned to the family home on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, it was occupied only by Tamerlan, his wife, Katherine, and their toddler daughter.

Judy Clarke, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, argued in her opening statement on March 4 that Tsarnaev’s flirtation with extreme views of Islam came in tandem with that sense of loss.

Tsarnaev, “in one of those tough times of adolescence, as we all know, became much more vulnerable . . . to the influence . . . of someone that he loved and respected very much: his older brother,” Clarke told jurors. She also asserted that there will be no evidence that Tsarnaev “downloaded those materials as if he were searching the Internet to find them.”


One of the items found on Tsarnaev’s thumb drive was a pay stub for his sister-in-law, showing that Tsarnaev’s life — along with his electronic devices — was intertwined with his older brother’s.

“The evidence will also show you that, while Tamerlan Tsarnaev was looking and immersed in death and destruction and carnage in the Middle East, [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] spent most of his time on the Internet doing things that teenagers do: Facebook, cars, girls,” Clarke said in her opening statement.

Defense lawyers have acknowledged that both brothers participated in the bombing at the Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 260.

They also killed MIT police Officer Sean Collier, according to prosecutors.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a violent confrontation with police in Watertown.

Through his lawyer, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has admitted to the crimes, but his defense team hopes to use the trial to spare him from a death sentence.

In earlier testimony Thursday, FBI special agent Brian J. Corcoran Jr. described the wreckage that occurred during the brothers’ confrontation with police on Laurel Street in Watertown.

Investigators found pieces of pipe bombs thrown by the brothers as far as a block away from where the confrontation took place.


A piece of a pressure cooker bomb that a police officer earlier testified that he saw Tsarnaev throw was found lodged in the side of a car parked in a driveway.

The top of the pressure cooker was found in a yard a few houses in the opposite direction. And a lock for the top of the pressure cooker was found lodged in a house.

Assistant US Attorney William Weinreb asked if shrapnel had been found on Laurel Street in residents’ yards, on their front porches, roofs and in their walls.

“Yes, it was,” Corcoran responded.

He also testified that authorities found several bags by a Honda Civic that the brothers left at the scene. One contained a thumb drive, a lighter, and a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth pencil. Another had a cellphone, a laptop computer, and identification belonging to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Authorities also found a modified, green transmitter that would have allowed the pressure-cooker bombs to be detonated remotely.

Testimony is slated to resume on Monday.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
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