Near midnight of April 18, 2013, a driver sat alone in his Mercedes SUV on a street in Cambridge, Mass. Hearing a tap, he rolled his window down. Suddenly a man reached in, opened the door, and jumped into the vehicle. He pointed a gun at the driver.
“Did you hear about the Boston explosion?” the intruder said. “I did that.”
The man removed the magazine from his weapon and showed the driver it contained live ammunition.
“I am serious,” he said.
The older of the two, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, would soon be dead, killed either by police bullets, his own explosives, or injuries suffered when younger sibling Dzhokhar ran him down in a desperate bid to escape. Within 24 hours Dzhokhar would himself be in custody, caught wounded beneath a boat tarp after one of the most extensive urban manhunts in US history.
The criminal complaint, attested to by FBI Special Agent Daniel R. Genck, is the first official on-the-record account by federal agents of some of the details of those intervening hours. As such it clarifies and adds to press conference statements and journalistic reports.
The carjacking – how it happened
For instance, the account of the carjacking in Cambridge appears to add new information to what has become public so far. It alleges that the SUV was taken by only one of the brothers, though it does not say which one. After seizing control of the vehicle, the intruder forced the SUV’s owner to drive to another location, where they picked up a second man, according to the complaint.
The two men put something in the trunk. Then the man with the gun drove, after the victim had switched to the passenger seat, and the new addition sat in the back. The carjackers spoke to each other in a foreign language.
They demanded money, and the victim gave them $45 from his wallet. They forced him to provide his ATM card and password, and they drove to a gas station/convenience store at 816 Memorial Drive in Cambridge.
“The two men got out of the car, at which point the victim managed to escape,” says the complaint.
The document notes that FBI Agent Glenck has viewed surveillance footage from the convenience store and identified both brothers from the footage. While the complaint does not say so, it is possible that this footage is the source of a surveillance photo from that evening of Dzhokhar wearing a hoodie that was widely published that day. It could also explain the confusion in initial reports that a convenience store holdup was involved in the brothers’ alleged overnight crime spree.
National security law and terrorism expert and blogger Marcy Wheeler noted Monday on her Twitter feed that the account of the carjacking was likely included in the criminal complaint to establish probable cause that the surviving brother was involved in the Boston bombing. That is why it was detailed, but the brothers’ alleged shooting of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer was not. Without independent testimony to establish otherwise, Dzhokhar could just blame that murder on his brother.
“The carjacking is important tying the manhunt to the bombing. Otherwise the evidence is weaker, IMO [in my opinion],” she tweeted.
Who dropped what, when
The criminal complaint also includes a chilling timeline of the brothers’ alleged actions as they dropped off the bombs along Boylston Street. It follows them from 2:38 p.m. on Monday, April 15, as they turned left onto Boylston from cross street Gloucester, and proceeded through the crowd.
The timeline holds that Tamerlan dropped the first bomb. As this was occurring, Dzhokhar, “Bomber Two” in the complaint, stops directly in front of the Forum Restaurant on Boylston, near the finish line.
“He appears to have the thumb of his right hand hooked under the strap of his knapsack and a cell phone in his left hand,” says the complaint.
At some point he looks at his phone. Thirty seconds prior to the first explosion, he lifts the phone to his ear as if speaking, holding it there for 18 seconds. Seconds after he finishes the call, the first bomb goes off, and people swiveled their heads to the east to look. Alone among them, Bomber Two appears calm.
He glances to the east, then begins moving calmly to the west. He is no longer carrying his backpack.
“Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber Two had placed his backpack,” reads the complaint.
At least one person was killed in each blast, the complaint notes. This detail is likely included to make sure Dzhokhar would be subject to state murder charges and federal terrorism charges, which carry the death penalty.
The complaint also makes clear that the Forum Restaurant surveillance camera was a hero in the operation. While previous reports have held the Lord & Taylor department store camera provided clear footage of some of the operation, it’s the Forum camera that gets referenced in the important federal criminal complaint.
What were they thinking?
The complaint also notes instances of very poor operational security on the part of the alleged terrorists. If they had any training from outside sources, it does not show in the amateurish way they tried, or did not try, to cover their tracks.
The document notes that federal authorities searched Dzhokhar’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, on April 21. Among the items found were a “pyrotechnic,” and a black jacket and white hat similar in appearance to clothing items worn by Bomber Two on April 15.
In other words, not only did the younger brother wear a distinctive white cap, turned backward, as he allegedly dropped bombs on video, he did not get rid of the clothing he wore in the operation afterward, and in fact kept it in his dorm room along with more explosives.
Though the complaint does not say this, that poor operational security seems to be the action of someone who does not think they will be discovered by law enforcement. The brothers’ alleged hasty crime spree on the night of April 18, and the “I did that” boast to the Mercedes owner, also depict suspects who are both scared and in over their heads.