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Boston suspects threw pressure-cooker bomb at police, officials say

April 20, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano, Ken Dilanian and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

The Tsarnaev brothers were armed with at least three firearms and several improvised bombs — including a pressure-cooker explosive — during confrontations with police, an arsenal that will be traced to determine whether someone outside the U.S. helped the Boston bombing suspects obtain and build the weaponry, a law enforcement official said Saturday.

Meanwhile, some investigators said the Boston Marathon bombing did not appear to have been orchestrated by Al Qaeda, several U.S. officials said Saturday.

The suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, came to the U.S. from Russia about a decade ago as ethnic Chechen refugees and were granted asylum, law enforcement sources have said. Tamerlan, who was killed in a gun battle with police Thursday, was a legal permanent U.S. resident. Dzhokhar, captured Friday, became a citizen on Sept. 11, 2012.

“This guy is probably not a Chechen separatist … I suspect he wasn’t recruited by al Qaeda,” said one senior counter terrorism official regularly briefed on the investigation, referring to Tamerlan, who traveled to Russia last year.

Rep. Peter King (R-New York), chairman of the intelligence subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, agreed. “I don’t think this was directed from overseas, I don’t think this was planned from overseas.”

Tamerlan Tsarnaev appears to have embraced Islamic extremism, the law enforcement official said, though it’s unclear to what extent that was a main trigger for the violence.

King said it was possible Tamerlan met with extremists or received some training during a six-month trip to Russia in 2012, which officials are investigating.

But, the senior official said, the emerging story of the Tsarnaev brothers more likely fits the profile of previous domestic terror attacks and a number of mass shooting events in recent history, specifically noting "very striking" similarities between the Boston attack and the killing rampage of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in 2011.

In confrontations with the brothers Thursday and Friday, police faced a heavy arsenal of weapons.

One firearm was recovered after the shootout with police Thursday night in Watertown, where some 200 rounds of ammunition were exchanged, said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is still evolving.

That gun battle followed the shooting of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer on campus.

Two more firearms were recovered in the backyard boat where Dzhokhar was captured Friday, the official said, adding that the serial identification on at least one of them “was ground down” to obscure the numbers.

He said that authorities consider the older brother to be the leader of the duo. “The brother was the catalyst in this thing,” he said. “The younger brother followed him.”

During an interview with CNN Saturday, Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau said that the Thursday gun battle erupted when one of his officers spotted the brothers in two different cars. As he called for backup, the brothers exited the vehicles and “unloaded on our officers,” Deveau said. “He was under direct fire ... He has to jam it in reverse and try to get himself a little distance.”

“They had pipe bombs and explosives,” Deveau said. “During the exchange, all of a sudden something gets thrown at police officers. We find out it was the exact bomb used in the marathon ... a pressure cooker.”

Ultimately, only one of the six officers was injured in the firefight.

“I’m extremely proud of these officers,” Deveau said. “It was talent, guts and glory.”

After Dzhokar’s capture Friday evening, authorities decided not to read him his Miranda rights rights against self-incrimination, and hold him under a so-called public safety exception to the law, a move that has quickly raised legal and national security questions.

In 2011, a Justice Department memo expanded the use of the public safety exception in domestic terrorism cases, so that it can be invoked in exceptional circumstances even when there is not an imminent safety threat.

The changes were made after a controversy over the handling of the suspect in the Christmas Day 2009 airline bomb attempt, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was questioned by FBI agents for less than an hour before being read his rights.

A group of Republican lawmakers urged Saturday that wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be treated as an enemy combatant and not a criminal suspect.

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