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Biden calls Boston bomb suspects 'knockoff jihadists'

McClatchy Newspapers

April 24. 2013 10:00PM
Massachusetts Institute of Technology police pallbearers carry the casket of patrol officer Sean Collier during a memorial service at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., Wednesday. (REUTERS)

BOSTON - Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday denounced the Chechen brothers accused of planting the Boston Marathon bombs as "two twisted, perverted, cowardly knockoff jihadists," even as investigators scrambled to find out more about the suspects, one living and one dead.

Speaking at an outdoor service for slain Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, Biden explicitly connected the bombings and Collier's slaying to the U.S. war against terrorists worldwide. Preceded by a martial keen of bagpipes, Biden praised Collier as a "remarkable son (and) a remarkable brother," while his voice rose against those suspected of killing the 27-year-old officer.

"They know they can never defeat us," Biden said, adding that "it infuriates them that we refuse to bend, refuse to change, refuse to yield to fear."

Investigators believe Collier was gunned down in his police car around 10 p.m. Thursday by one of the two brothers three days after the marathon bombings.

Federal prosecutors have charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with use of a weapon of mass destruction and destruction of private property with an explosive for the April 15 bombings in which three people died and more than 260 were injured. Both federal charges carry the potential for the death penalty or for life in prison.

Additional charges?

Officials reported Wednesday that the 19-year-old Tsarnaev remains in fair condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he's being treated for multiple wounds incurred amid several gun battles with police.

Tsarnaev's 26-year-old brother Tamerlan died Friday after a late-night shootout in which, police say, 200 bullets were fired and several explosive devices were thrown.

Additional state charges relating to Collier's death and the wounding of Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority police officer Richard Donohue could come soon.

"We have an active investigation," Stephanie Chelf Guyotte, spokeswoman for Middlesex County District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, said in a telephone interview Wednesday, "and we do expect to file charges."

Massachusetts does not allow for the death penalty, and the state last executed a convicted criminal in 1947. A short-lived effort to reinstate the penalty failed Tuesday in the state House of Representatives, though in a roundabout way that let lawmakers avoid a politically difficult up-or-down vote.

Across the Charles River, in downtown Boston, Tsarnaev also could theoretically face additional state murder charges for the three individuals killed in the April 15 bombings. For now, though, the Suffolk County district attorney who handles Boston cases is letting federal prosecutors take the lead.

"We have a team of prosecutors in place, if there is some change," Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in an interview Wednesday, "but the district attorney believes that the federal statutes give federal authorities appropriate jurisdiction."

Tracking the brothers

Through a multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Force, investigators have been continuing to track the Tsarnaev brothers' footprints worldwide.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Wednesday that "some personnel . . . headed down" from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to the Russian province of Dagestan, a largely Muslim region about 1,200 miles away, to talk to the parents of the Tsarnaev brothers.

In Washington, other investigators trekked to a secure underground Capitol Hill facility late Wednesday to brief members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the latest findings.

The brothers appeared to live in very modest circumstances. They resided in a third-floor apartment in a shabby building in Cambridge, in a neighborhood dotted with upscale condominiums as well as auto repair and recycling facilities. Most of the windows in the apartment appeared blocked with cardboard, and a screen dangled from one window. Several neighbors said they believed the apartment was rent-subsidized.

The family and both brothers at one point received state public assistance, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday. The brothers, though, have not been receiving benefits this year, spokesman Alec Loftus said, confirming a report in Wednesday's Boston Herald.

An attorney for Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, a Rhode Island native who reportedly met Tamerlan at a nightclub and converted to Islam for him, has said she worked up to 80 hours a week to provide for the family.

Both brothers drove late-model Hondas, said Gilberto Junior, who owns a Somerville auto body shop just a block away from their apartment in Cambridge. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev routinely recommended the shop to his friends who drove fancy cars, Junior said, but Dzhokhar was "just the passenger."

Remote-control detonator

Tamerlan Tsarnaev purchased two fireworks-firing mortars, along with 48 pyrotechnic shells, from a Seabrook, N.H., store in February. The shells might have been enough to yield between a pound and a pound and a half of black powder, according to Phantom Fireworks vice president William Weimer. Weimer indicated it would have been easier to buy the larger quantities needed for bombs through a supply store.

"My assumption is that they probably experimented and decided they couldn't get enough, and went elsewhere for the powder," Weimer said in an interview from his company's Ohio headquarters.

The bombs apparently were triggered by a remote-controlled detonator, U.S. officials told the Associated Press on Wednesday. One of the anonymous officials told the AP that the detonator was "close-controlled" - meaning it had to be triggered within several blocks of the bombs. An FBI affidavit made public states that videotape shows on the suspects "manipulating" his cell phone shortly before the blasts.

Boylston Street

The Boston street where both bombs had been planted along the marathon route opened Wednesday to the public for the first time since the April 15 explosions. As relieved residents strolled Boylston Street, businesses were beginning to reopen, many sporting "Boston Strong" signs in their front windows.

Public works crews were repairing brick sidewalks that had been damaged by the blast, and orange traffic cones were placed to cordon off the actual bomb sites, as crews laid fresh concrete over them. Several bouquets of flowers and rose petals were left at the scene.

Several businesses near the bombs sustained heavy damage and were still boarded up, including the Forum Restaurant, where surveillance footage taken from a doorway camera April 15 picked up the younger Tsarnaev walking away without the knapsack he had been carrying.

The Boston Public Library's main building, which sits along Boylston Street and had been closed since the explosions, also opened Wednesday and offered a free concert in the afternoon.

The library also waived its usual late fees.

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