Bombing suspect’s wife to allow family to claim his body
The widow of suspected marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev said Tuesday she would let other family members claim his body, which has been kept at the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for more than a week.
Under Islamic law, Muslims are customarily buried shortly after they die, normally within a day. But Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow, Katherine Russell, has not claimed the body and the state refused to release the body to other family members without her permission.
In an emotional interview Tuesday, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s father, Anzor, had complained that officials were not allowing the family to bury him.
“The body should have been buried,” Anzor Tsarnaev said by telephone from Russia. “What else can you do with a dead body?”
Authorities say Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, planted the two bombs that exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, killing three people and wounding more than 260, and fatally shot an MIT police officer on April 18. Police say Tamerlan was killed as the brothers attempted to escape from police.
Russell’s lawyers said Tuesday evening that she had “just been informed” that the body was available, several hours after the Globe asked about Anzor Tsarnaev’s complaint.
“It is Katherine Russell’s wish that his remains be released to the Tsarnaev family, and we will communicate her wishes to the proper authorities,” said a statement from her attorney, Amato DeLuca of DeLuca & Weizenbaum in Providence, R.I.
The Office of the Chief Medical Officer had yet to hear from Russell directly as of Tuesday evening, spokesman Terrel Harris said. But Harris said the office will release the body to other family members with her permission.
Russell’s lawyer also said that she “will continue to meet with law enforcement, as she has done for many hours over the past week, and provide as much assistance to the investigation as she can.”
The statement came a day after FBI agents visited Russell in North Kingstown, R.I., where she has been staying with her parents. FBI agents were seen carrying bags when they left.
The FBI has been eager to interview Russell to find out what she knows about the bomb plot. The agency also wanted to collect a DNA sample from Russell to compare with female DNA found on a bomb fragment, according to media reports.
Anzor Tsarnaev, who last week told news agencies that a heart condition and high blood pressure had made him unfit to travel to Boston, said on Tuesday said that he will make the trip if he has assurances that he can meet with Dzhokhar, who is an inmate at a federal medical center at Fort Devens.
“They said I can’t see him,” Tsarnaev said in Russian. “If I knew I could see him, I would be there tonight.”
Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, declined to comment on Tsarnaev’s assertion.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons normally allows inmates to receive a limited number of visits from family and friends who have been cleared by prison staff. Typically, the agency says, an initial visiting list, including immediate family members, is set up within the first few days of a prisoner’s arrival.
But it can often take longer to arrange family visits for cases involving people accused of murder and other serious violent crimes, said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, which advocates for the rights of prisoners.
In this case, the process may be further complicated by the fact that the elder Tsarnaev is living overseas, is not a native English speaker, and may not fully understand the procedures needed to arrange a visit.
Tsarnaev expressed sadness about the bombings, even as he dismissed the charges against his sons as a fabrication. He said he had left his home in Dagestan for another part of Russia, which he did not disclose, with his ex-wife, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva.
Tsarnaev complained that his relatives were having trouble claiming Tamerlan’s body, apparently not realizing that his son’s widow was required to first give them permission.
On Tuesday, an uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers contacted Al-Marhama, a non-profit Muslim funeral and burial service, for help with funeral arrangements for Tamerlan Tsarnaev, said Ismail Fenni, assistant imam of the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge.
Al-Marhama notified Fenni, who said he called the uncle and assured him that people affiliated with the Cambridge mosque, where the brothers occasionally prayed, would be willing to assist.
“I know many of the members of our community want to help,” he said. “We feel for the family. They obviously are going through a hard time.”
Fenni said mosques typically do not handle funerals and burials. Families are referred to funeral homes, he said, and, often with the help of volunteers from the community or Al-Marhama, the body is cleansed and shrouded in preparation for burial. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, which is owned by the same organization as the Cambridge mosque but run separately, also has facilities for preparing bodies for burial.
Fenni said the uncle had no details about the family’s wishes. Fenni did not know whether Tamerlan’s body would be shipped overseas or buried here, or what kind of service the family wants, if any.
The Tsarnaevs have not contacted the cultural center, Boston’s largest mosque. If asked, Imam William Suhaib Webb would refuse to pray over Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body, said Yusufi Vali, executive director of the cultural center.
But both Webb and Fenni say it is the Muslim community’s obligation to bury its dead.
“The deceased is still a human being, and from the humanitarian side, we have to at least give him the rite of burial, regardless of what he has done,” Fenni said.