Tsarnaev, widow offer more questions than answers

The young widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the man suspected of the bombing at the Boston Marathon last month, remains mysterious to investigators and the public. Monica Hesse describes Katherine Russell’s marriage to Tsarnaev and her conversion to Islam :

The wedding took place the third Monday in June, on the second floor of a mosque in Dorchester, Mass., in a tiny, carpeted office cluttered with papers and books. The imam who performed the ceremony had never met the couple before they called out of the blue and asked him to marry them, and they never told him why they had chosen his place of worship.

It was the bride who phoned with the request. “She said, ‘We want to get married,’ ” recalls Taalib Mahdee, the imam of Masjid al-Qur’aan, and Mahdee agreed, because Muslim teachings say it is good to be married.

It was hot that day. Outside, the high reached 90.

The couple brought with them only two guests to act as witnesses, a man and a woman, and the ceremony was only 15 minutes long. Mahdee led them through their vows, instructing them to be responsible to the Creator, and to each other. The bride wore a head scarf. She seemed happy. (Read the full profile here.)

Law enforcement officers, unsure whether Russell knew about what they allege was her husband’s terrorist plot, are keeping a careful eye on here, the Associated Press reports:

Every time the widow of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev leaves her parents’ house, federal agents watching the residence follow her in unmarked vehicles.

Federal authorities are placing intense pressure on what they know to be the inner circle of the two bombing suspects, arresting three college buddies of surviving brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and keeping Tamerlan’s 24-year-old widow, Katherine Russell, in the public eye with their open surveillance and leaks to media about investigators’ focus on her.

After Tsarnaev’s death, Russell expressed her wish through her attorney that his remains be released to his family. Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, traveled to Worcester, Mass. on Sunday to arrange for the burial. Matthew Schmalz reflects on the significance of the fact that so far, no cemetery has been willing to accept the body:

“I do understand no one wants to associate their names with such evil events.”

So said Ruslan Tsarni, who came here to Worcester to perform the burial rites for his nephew.  Death has always raised the specter of contagion—it’s one reason why we have cemeteries.  But the question regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev moves us beyond this.  Intellectually, we have tried to find a place for him and his actions, speculating in alternatively careful and uneven ways about the roles he played in life: son, brother, husband, father, Chechen, Muslim, boxer, terrorist.  Now the uncomfortable question confronts us immediately: Where do we put him?

Federal authorities had been asking the same question about Tsarnaev for about two years before the bombing, but despite monitoring Tsarnaev, they did not find any evidence suggesting he was dangerous. Greg Miller and Sari Horwitz report in detail on the efforts by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies:

Several relatives of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spoke to The Washington Post and other media on Friday. Their words ranged from angry and skeptical to sad, exhausted and resigned.

The strike in Boston marked the first time that a terrorist bomb plot slipped past those elaborate defenses and ended in casualties in the United States. Whether that outcome represents an intelligence failure is already the focus of a multi-agency review as well as a heated political debate.

The details that have emerged so far suggest there are still institutional gaps that could be fixed to bolster the nation’s counterterrorism system. But the bombings also exposed a less-reassuring reality: Even when defenses function as designed, they can be undermined by factors beyond their control.

In Boston, some of those factors were as fundamental and elusive as timing and luck. (Read the rest of the article here.)

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

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