CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, came to America from central Asia about a decade ago and appeared to have embraced their new life — attending school, holding jobs, playing sports and, in the older brother’s case, aspiring to represent the United States as a boxer in the Olympics.
But there were signs of discontent from the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.
“I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them,” Tamerlan Tsarnaev said, as reported in an online photo essay that shows him training for a boxing competition.
Their aunt, Maret Tsarnaev of Toronto, told Canada’s CTV the two were “very normal men,” but also said Tamerlan Tsarnaev “seemingly did not find himself yet in America because it’s not easy.”
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And a man who lived in the same Cambridge neighborhood as the brothers and speaks Russian said the older one told him “he was upset with America because America was in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries.” The man, who declined to give his name, added, “Should I have called someone to tell them this guy doesn’t like America? I'm having second thoughts.”
The brothers were ethnic Chechens born in Kyrgyzstan, a central Asian republic that was part of the former Soviet Union. The family had sought refuge from fighting in Chechnya, said a Russian official. The family then moved for a short time to Makhachkala in Dagestan, next to Chechnya, a mainly Muslim Russian republic that fought a war with Russia marked by terrorist attacks in Moscow and Beslan.
The family then came to the U.S. as refugees, said a law enforcement official, and was granted asylum.
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The men’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told reporters outside his home in Maryland on Friday that they were born in Kyrgyzstan, a central Asian republic that was part of the former Soviet Union. He said he had not seen them since 2005 and has not been in touch with the family for years. He said he “never ever would imagine that somehow the children of my brother would be associated” with Monday’s bombing.
He said he did not know them to have any ill will against the United States. Asked what he thought might have motivated them to set off bombs, Tsarni said, “Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves, these are the only reasons I can imagine.”
He said it would be a “fraud, a fake” to say it had anything to do with their Muslim religion.
The men’s father, Anzor Tsarnaev, in a phone interview from Makhachkala, said Friday his sons were innocent. “I will never believe my boys could have done such a terrible thing,” he said. “I have no doubt they were set up.”
He said his sons did not know how to handle firearms or explosives. “It is a provocation of the special services who went after them because my sons are Muslims and don’t have anyone in America to protect them,” he said.
“My older son is killed and now they are after my little boy,” he said.
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Authorities have not tied the suspects to a terror organization abroad “at this point,” said an FBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
“That’s the big question,” he added. “It would certainly change things.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, wearing a black cap and labeled Suspect No. 1 in photos released by the FBI, was shot in a confrontation with police early Friday and died at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, labeled Suspect No. 2 and photographed in a white baseball hat that he wore backward, was still on the loose.
Nicolas G. Hercule, a 2006 graduate of Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, a public high school in the Boston suburb, said he was on the volleyball team with Tamerlan Tsarnaev. “He was a cool dude, a nice guy,” said Hercule, who added that they were not particularly close but that his teammate was always friendly to him.
“It’s insane,” Hercule said of news that Tsarnaev was a suspect. “Hard to believe.”
Tamerlan attended Bunker Hill Community College in the Boston suburb of Charlestown, where he studied engineering. He later dropped out, his aunt said.
A website by Toronto-based scientist and photographer Johannes Hirn, which featured images of Tamerlan, describes him as a 196-pound boxer who had hoped to represent New England in the heavyweight category at the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The caption on one photo quotes Tamerlan as saying he had no friends after five years in the United States.