What friend's trial is revealing about Boston Marathon bombing suspect

The trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, charged with obstruction of justice in the Boston Marathon bombing case, is shedding new light on the mind-set of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the surviving alleged bomber.

By , Staff writer

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    The trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev does not begin until November. However, the trial of his college friend Azamat Tazhayakov, who has been accused of removing evidence from Mr. Tsarnaev's dorm room, has shed light on the alleged bomber's habits and beliefs.
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A portrait of alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a pot-smoking student who idealized the idea of martyrdom came into sharper focus this week during the federal trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, who is accused of helping to dispose of evidence that authorities say links Mr. Tsarnaev to the Boston Marathon bombings.

Mr. Tazhayakov stands accused of disposing of a laptop computer and a backpack filled with emptied fireworks casings from Tsarnaev’s University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth dorm room several days after two bombs exploded at the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people and injuring 264 others. Tsarnaev faces 30 federal charges related to the attacks, including using a weapon of mass destruction.

While Tsarnaev’s trial is not set to begin until November, this week’s trial of his friend has included testimony about the chief suspect's personality, habits, and religious beliefs.

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Just weeks before the explosions erupted on Boston’s Boylston Street, Tsarnaev told friends over dinner that it is good to be a martyr because you “die with a smile on your face and go straight to heaven,” a federal prosecutor told jurors during opening statements.

That sentiment matches those found scrawled inside the boat where Tsarnaev lay wounded and hiding for most of April 19, 2013, while SWAT teams scoured an area of Watertown, Mass., in search of him. In that note, Tsarnaev wrote that he was jealous of his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police the night before, and he implored Allah to make him a “shaheed,” the Arabic word for martyr. Authorities believe Tamerlan Tsarnaev was also involved in the marathon bombings.

Tsarnaev indicated in that note that he did not like killing innocent people, a statement that federal prosecutors have cited as admission of guilt in affidavits released last month. If he felt any remorse for the lives lost in the bombings, they were not apparently immediately after the attacks, according to testimony by his former roommate, Andrew Dwinells. Tsarnaev spent those days much as he always had: smoking pot, sleeping, texting, and using his computer, Mr. Dwinells testified.

“He slept a bit more, but that was it,” said Dwinells, according to Bloomberg. “He didn’t seem agitated, he didn’t seem nervous.”

Those who knew the Tsarnaevs during their teen years have said Tamerlan was the more religious of the two brothers. Many of Dhokhar’s high school friends told Rolling Stone that they were aware he was Muslim but that he didn’t talk much about his faith. However, he became increasingly isolated after moving to Dartmouth to attend UMass, and his religious beliefs became more prominent in his social media.

“My religion is the truth,” read one tweet highlighted in the Rolling Stone profile. “I don’t argue with fools who say Islam is terrorism it’s not worth a thing, let an idiot remain and idiot,” read another.

Despite his newfound focus on religion, it appears that Tsarnaev in many ways remained the same lackadaisical pothead that his high school friends remembered. Much of his relationship with Tazhayakov and two others accused of helping to protect him during the investigation of the bombings centered on getting stoned together.

The girlfriend of Tazhayakov’s roommate and alleged accomplice in the disposal of the backpack testified that Tsarnaev and her boyfriend spent most of their time together simply hanging out and smoking pot.

Much of the testimony during the first few days of the Tazhayakov trial centered on the extent of marijuana use in the lives of Tsarnaev and his college friends, as the prosecution and defense attorneys tried to explain the meaning of several text messages exchanged between the accused bomber and the current defendant.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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