What Did the Boston Bombers' Parents Know?

As Dzhokhar Tsarnaev continues to answer questions from his hospital bed, where he reportedly was charged on Monday as the White House said he will not be as a so-called "enemy combatant," his parents are planning to come to America and answer for him. Already, they have started providing more details than last week — ominous phone calls, elaborate setups, the role of Islam — as the Tsarnaev family's big picture begins to flesh out a portrait.

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The 19-year-old suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev continues to answer the "million questions" from investigators while in serious condition in his hospital bed, where he was charged by the United States on Monday as the White House said he will not be tried in as a so-called "enemy combatant" but as an American citizen. But his parents are planning to come to America and answer for him. Already, they have started providing more details than last week — ominous phone calls, elaborate setups, the role of Islam — as the Tsarnaev family's big picture begins to flesh out a portrait of two young men gone very bad, before, during, and after the Boston Marathon bombings.

(Updates, Tuesday: The brothers left warning signs of their own, and Dzokhar continues to give answers from his hospital bed.)

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev's father, Asnor, will visit the U.S. in a search for "justice and the truth," reports the Associated Press in a new interview late Sunday. Their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told reporters Monday that her husband's trip (they are separated) would begin Wednesday. Zubeidat told The Los Angeles Times in an interview Sunday that one of the suspects' uncles "is a lawyer with a big oil company and he said that he will help us find a good lawyer for Dzhokhar." So much for the Boston public defender's office. (UpdateThe Boston Globe reports a building where Asnor used to work on cars was searched by the authorities Monday.)

Asnor, the father, claimed in several interviews with American news reporters in Russia after his sons were named on Friday that they were part of some elaborate setup, "I will never believe my boys could have done such a terrible thing," he told the L.A. Times in a telephone interview from Dagestan. "I have no doubt they were set up." But the Tsarnaev boys may not have been telling their father everything, or else their father is telling conflicting stories from the rest of the family: "Don't worry," Asnor says his sons told him after the bombing, according to an Interfax intervew. "We were not even there." In explaining the setup, Asnor told Interfax that "I believe special services have framed my children."

Zubeidat, the mother, followed Asnor's media tour with multiple interviews later in the weekend and Monday, and it appears she may have had a better understanding of her sons' thinking — or at least a better relationship with them. According to multiple reports, she became quite close with Tamerlan — the older brother who was killed in a firefight late Thursday whose trip to Russia and possible influence on his younger brother has become a highlight of the investigation — during the last few years of his life. Tamerlan stopped drinking and smoking with his brother and urged their family to adhere to Muslim traditions, Zubeidat says. He gave up boxing, too, which led to a rift with his furious father. ("[The father] said Tamerlan told him that a Muslim must not punch another man in the face," The Wall Street Journal reports in a lengthy profile on the family today.) Tamerlan persuaded his mother to start wearing a hibjab around the house, which also apparently contributed to his rift with his father. Eventually the parents separated and started living apart. Zubeidat started working as an aesthetician from home so she wouldn't have to serve male customers, something she perceived to be against her religion. Tamerlan and Zubeidat grew closer through Islam. ("You know how Islam has changed me," Zubeidat recalls her older son telling her, she told the Journal.)

Zubeidat says she spoke to her oldest son for the last time on Thursday night, immediately before the shootout that resulted in the 26-year-old suspect's death, though she gave differing accounts about that final conversation. "The police, they have started shooting at us, they are chasing us," Tamerlan recounted, she tells the Journal for today's front-page story. "Mama, I love you," was the last thing he said to her, she told the paper, before the phone went silent. But according to her Sunday interview with the L.A. Times, her last conversation with Tamerlan came the morning before that fatal shootout. "He would call me every day from America in the last days," she said, implying continued contact after the bombings. The mother currently lives in the family's home country of Dagestan, but the Times cites her as saying she is planning a trip to the U.S. with her husband. "During our last conversation on the morning [before the shootout], he was especially touching and tender and alarmed at the same time," Zubeidat told the Times. "'If you need me, you will find me," she says Tamerlan said before up." She also told the Times she didn't know the shootout was happening until her daughter called her and told her to turn on the TV news. Tamerlan allegedly told Zubeidat about the F.B.I. calling him after the bombing occurred and, like his father, urged them to contact the intelligence agency.

So it now appears that Tamerlan, potentially the "radicalized" brother in the bombing investigation, kept in close contact with his mother over the last few days of his life, just before his death and his brother's capture. It also appears that the mother's story has changed at least once, and that she was speaking with her son up until the last hours of his life. But we don't know how much she knew about the plot, or if she understood why the authorities were shooting at her sons — or whether any family members could have turned them in, warned authorities, or remain culpable themselves for any of this in the fraught trail to come. For what its worth, Tamerlan's American wife — Katherine Russell, who he lived with and cared for a baby with — denies having any knowledge of the potential dark side of her husband's life. She was working seven days a week while he was a stay-at-home dad. Alvi Tsarni, the "exasperated uncle" — not the "being losers" one, because it's a big family tree — claimed on Friday that Tamerlan had called him on Thursday and "said 'forgive me.'"

(Update, Tuesday: The mother now claims Tamerlan Tsarnaev son is still alive, and a special Reuters report has much more, including the photos below.)

Tamerlan (bottom) Tsarnaev, accompanied by his father Anzor (left), mother Zubeidat and uncle Muhamad Suleimanov (right), in a photo courtesy of the Suleimanova family in Makhachkala.

Dzhokhar (bottom) and Tamerlan (top) Tsarnaev, accompanied by their sisters.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.