WORCESTER — An independent autopsy on the body of Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was scheduled to be performed Sunday, a step requested by Tsarnaev’s parents, who believe their sons were framed by the US government. Preposterous as it may sound to Bostonians, that view is catching fire on the ground with some in Russia.
The Tsarnaevs say the autopsy results could undermine the US officials’ account of Tamerlan’s death by showing that he was not run over by his brother, Dzhokhar. That, the parents believe, would throw into question law enforcement officials’ entire account of the case.
In a telephone interview last week, the suspects’ father, Anzor Tsarnaev, dismissed the charges that his sons plotted to set off the bombs as “a complete fabrication.” His contention is picking up popular support in Russia, particularly in the semiautonomous region of Chechnya and other restive territories in southern Russia, where the Tsarnaevs have relatives and roots.
Posters with Dzhokhar’s picture have appeared on walls in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, and a fund-raising drive for the family has sprung up. Many members of the Russian-language social media site VKontakte have replaced their profile pictures with a photo of Dzhokhar with the words, “Totally Innocent.”
Thousands of miles away, Boston and US law enforcement officials have no doubt that the Tsarnaev brothers are responsible for the Marathon attacks, which killed three people and injured more than 260. What remains uncertain is where the final resting place of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body will be.
On Saturday, the body lay in a cooler in the basement of a funeral parlor in Worcester. The Tsarnaev family wants Tamerlan to be interred in the Boston area. Peter Stefan, owner of Graham Putnum & Mahoney Funeral Parlors, vowed to secure a plot quickly.
“This ends Monday,” Stefan said. “We will find a cemetery by the end of the day Monday.”
Stefan said he was determined to give Tsarnaev a proper Muslim burial in a cemetery with what he referred to as a designated Muslim section. The Gardens at Gethsemane in West Roxbury and Knollwood Memorial Park in Canton have said no so far, he said. Neither cemetery had a comment.
George Milley, president of Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, said the Tsarnaevs should consider alternatives, such as cremation or shipping the body back to Russia.
“I think this family has distressed enough people,” Milley said.
Stefan’s funeral home, a stately white Victorian on Main Street, became the center of a bizarre scene over the weekend as protesters waved signs, police arrived to stand guard, and traffic slowed to a crawl for a half-mile in each direction.
Stefan, 66, held court in his second-floor office, fielding calls from international media while neighbors stopped by with muffins and doughnuts.
“If they had asked me to bury Adolf Hitler, I would have buried him,” Stefan said. “It’s what we do.”
Russians who believe American law enforcement officials are lying cite a 30-second section of grainy video that has gone viral. The voices are unclear, and the origin of the clip is not apparent. In it, two voices seem to be saying, “We give up” and “We didn’t do anything,” followed by repeated gunshots. The Tsarnaev family argues that the video depicts Dzhokhar and Tamerlan trying to surrender to police.
Yuri M. Zhukov, a fellow with the National Security Studies Program at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, said “innocence campaigns” after the detention of young men accused of rebel activity are common in the North Caucasus, along Russia’s southern rim. The region has seen two devastating civil wars in Chechnya, where Moscow has sought to quell an Islamic insurgency.
“Counterinsurgency and policing practices there have traditionally been quite indiscriminate, with most evidence and intelligence collected through coercive interrogations,” he said in an e-mail. “The local population is inherently skeptical of charges leveled against suspected terrorists, in part because, in the North Caucasus, the evidence used in such cases is often not reliable.”
The quick apprehension of the Tsarnaev brothers, he said, has added to the perception that they were set up.
There is also general anti-Americanism in the region because of the unpopularity of the US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. For years, Russians have used reports of abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay to defend their own practices, Zhukov said.
Conspiracy theories about US intentions abound in the region, he said, although different political factions ascribe conflicting motives to the Americans. The belief, for example, that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job” is more mainstream in Russia and the North Caucasus than in the United States, he said. The “free Dzhokhar” movement follows in the same tradition.
“It is not clear what Washington gains by setting these boys up, the story goes, but clearly they are up to something,” Zhukov said.
Stefan, who has been criticized for taking Tsarnaev’s body, has said that it will be washed according to Islamic tradition following the completion of the second autopsy. He said he plans to file a death certificate and burial permit with the city of Boston on Tuesday.
If no cemetery will take Tsarnaev, Stefan said he will call the FBI, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, and Governor Deval Patrick and urge them to help.
He also said the City of Cambridge may be obliged to bury Tsarnaev, as a former resident with nowhere else to be buried. The Cambridge mayor and city manager did not respond to requests for comment Saturday, and the cemetery superintendent could not be reached.
Outside the Worcester funeral home, protesters said Tsarnaev should be cremated or, as Osama Bin Laden was after he was killed in a raid by US Navy SEALs, buried at sea.
One of the protesters, Darlene Olsen of Leicester, carried a sign that said, “Bury the Garbage in the Landfill.”
“He just doesn’t belong here,” she said.
“Just burn him and throw him in the sewer,” said a young man who was walking by.
Stefan said he has not discussed cost with the family, but if relatives cannot afford a burial, he will cover the costs himself.
He said that at least 10 people had called offering to donate money for the burial. But he said the home is not accepting money, and if any arrives, it will be sent to the One Fund to benefit bombing victims.
Kheda Saratova, a human rights activist in Russia who has been helping the Tsarnaev brothers’ parents, said the family has considered bringing Tamerlan’s body back to Russia if no one in the United States will bury him. But they would rather not, she said.
“According to Muslim custom you must do everything possible to bury the body as soon as possible,” Saratova said by telephone from Russia.
She said the family has been receiving money and support from “all over the world.”Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wesley Lowery at wesley.
email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery. David Filipov at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davidfilipov.