BOSTON – The day after the second suspect in the Boston bombings was captured, federal law enforcement officials scoured evidence searching for a motive for the brutal terrorist attack while the region tried to return to normal, aided by Red Sox and Bruins games.
A high-placed FBI official said the agency had interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two suspects, and his mother in January 2011, and also checked his telephone and Internet activity at the request of the Russian government. But he said that the discussions with the Tsarnaevs “went nowhere and came up with nothing. There was nothing significant found.”
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, added that the FBI was never specifically told what it was that the Russians were interested in, but that the FBI complied as a “cooperative service” that the U.S. and Russia often provide.
But he said the request somewhat piqued the FBI’s interest in Tsarnaev at the time. He said the FBI queried their Russian counterparts and asked if there was more they could tell them about why they were interested in the family, and offered to go back again and talk to the Tsarnaevs.
“We got no follow-up, as I understand it,” he said.
He said, “It could have been any number of things they were curious about. Bits or pieces that they had picked up, or something they picked up in their system. We shared the information we got, just as they would for us.”
Asked why the Russians were interested in Tsarnaev before he visited Russia last year, the official could not say. “We do any number of these checks any given day,” he said.
A U.S. official, who also asked to remain anonymous, said investigators were examining hard drives, email accounts and social media sites used by the suspects – Tamerlan and his younger brother Dzhokhar – to try to determine whether they had any help plotting the Boston Marathon blasts and to shed light on their motivation.
The official, who had been briefed on the progress in the investigation, said the computer hard drives were seized by law enforcement officials on Friday, but said that he did not know where.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed late Thursday in a shootout with law enforcement, while his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, was captured late Friday after hiding out in a boat in a backyard.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remained at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where his brother was pronounced dead and where 24 injured spectators were taken Monday after two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, spraying the crowds with nails and pellets.
“The FBI has told us we can say he is in serious condition," said spokeswoman Kelly Lawman, adding that doctors at the hospital do not expect the bombing suspect’s condition to change Saturday.
Law enforcement officials declined to say whether he had undergone surgery or was in intensive care, referring all questions to the FBI. She also declined to say whether he or his family was willing to talk.
The U.S. attorney, Carmen Ortiz, was planning to meet with officials at the FBI field office in Boston to sort out the potential charges to file against the younger brother, a Boston FBI official said.
The federal law enforcement source said there are discussions underway about whether to file charges only on the slaying of the MIT police officer at this point – enough to hold him on a high bond. After that, prosecutors would send the case to a federal grand jury, probably on Monday, to deal with federal charges related to explosives and the three deaths from the bombings, as well as the other assaults.
He said there is also the question of when the arraignment would occur, noting that a federal magistrate could visit the hospital to do it, or it could be done electronically.
Life in the area, which was under lockdown during the intense manhunt, was returning to normal, but police presence remained heavy in Boston. On the Common, the public space in downtown Boston, police cruisers circled and officers in camouflage walked the sidewalks. But people were out for a stroll with coffee in hand or children in tow, and the panhandlers had returned to work.
Grace Phelan, 30, a dietitian at Tufts Medical Center, walked quickly through the Common on her way to an exercise class. “The city is obviously haunted by everything, but so relieved and trying to get back to normal,” she said.
Cassie Meyer and her boyfriend, Jason Apruzzese, both 27, were also out in the cool, overcast day. “It’s a sense of relief. It’s a been a tense week,” she said. While Apruzzese said, “It was scary to see the city in lockdown, but it’s nice to see people out again today.”