Reports: Tsarnaev Cooperating with Authorities; Brothers Planned More Attacks in New York?

Posted: Apr 22, 2013 5:12 PM

Phase one of the Boston investigation came to a head on Friday night, but the saga is far from over.  The latest: (1) Despite not being designated as an enemy combatant, the surviving bomber will get worked over by our high value detainee interrogation team:

A special group of interrogators, part of what is known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, is expected to conduct the questioning. The group is a mix of investigators, drawn from the FBI, CIA, State Department and other agencies, created in 2009 to quickly question terror suspects to thwart any additional threats. Separately, investigators have been reviewing a number of detonated and un-exploded devices, the official said. All of the explosives recovered so far, about a handful, appear to be homemade devices that were assembled with commonly available components, much in the style of the pressure-cooker bombs that were detonated at the marathon site. The suspects also had a cache of firearms, a mix of handguns and long guns. It was not immediately clear how the weapons were acquired, the official said.

More good news: Authorities say the younger Tsarnaev brother has been cooperative so far, answering officials' questions in writing because he can't yet talk, due to injuries sustained.

(2) Two "foreign nationals" have been arrested and two women were detained in Massachusetts in connection with the bombings.  All four are reportedly of college age:

Agents wearing FBI and Department of Homeland Security jackets detained two men at the Hidden Brook apartment complex just hours after releasing three people believed to be associated with Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. A neighbor who declined to identify herself said the same two men were among the three people taken into custody by the FBI Friday afternoon. An FBI spokeswoman could not provide any information on the two men, both of whom were led away in handcuffs around 3:50 p.m. Saturday, or anything related to the apartment, citing the “ongoing” nature of the investigation...Earlier Saturday afternoon, a silver mini-van with consulate license plates arrived at the Carriage Drive apartment along with the FBI and Homeland Security, and stayed a half an hour longer than the agents. The van left with two women, neither of whom appeared to be restrained. One was carrying a pink backpack as she exited the apartment and ran into the van, which sped away as the women told reporters they did not wish to comment.

The story doesn't specify which consulate the van was from, but given the circumstances, Russia is a fairly safe bet.  The New York Daily News says the men in question are a pair of 19-year-olds from Kazakhstan.  The UK Daily Mirror quotes American national security sources who believe the Tsarnaev brothers may have been part of a radical Islamist sleeper cell comprised of up to 12 individuals.  The story says that the Tsarnaevs were trained to carry out their mission, which would align with reports that the elder brother made a mysterious trip to Dagestan (a Russian republic in the Caucuses) last year.  One witness tells NBC News that Tamerlan routinely met with a radical Salafist at a mosque during his visit.  We already know the FBI looked into -- and cleared -- him in 2011, at the Russians' behest; but did they drop the ball in 2012, too?

It was one of six times in total that surveillance officials witnessed Tsarnaev meeting this militant at the same mosque, according to the police official. The militant contact later disappeared, the police official said, but so did Tsarnaev before investigators had a chance to speak with him. The FBI never responded, according to the Dagestani police official.  

(3) Were the brothers Tsarnaev considering a drive to New York City to wreak more destruction?  The man they car-jacked in greater Boston (who thankfully managed to escape) believes so, via the New York Times:

More details of what the authorities said was the original plot were becoming clearer. The Boston police commissioner, Edward Davis, said the authorities believed that Mr. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, had planned more attacks beyond the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and wounded more than 170. When the suspects seized a Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle and held the driver hostage, they told him that they planned to head to New York, the senior United States official said Sunday. It was not clear whether the suspects had told the driver what they planned to do there. Mr. Davis told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday: “We have reason to believe, based upon the evidence that was found at that scene — the explosions, the explosive ordnance that was unexploded and the firepower that they had — that they were going to attack other individuals.”

The terrorists had quite an arsenal at their disposal.  Amazingly, terrorists don't respect gun laws, either:

Along with determining that the suspects had made at least five pipe bombs, the authorities recovered four firearms that they believe the suspects used, according to a law enforcement official. The authorities found an M-4 carbine rifle — a weapon similar to ones used by American forces in Afghanistan — on the boat where the younger suspect was found Friday night in Watertown, Mass., 10 miles west of Boston. Two handguns and a BB gun that the authorities believe the brothers used in an earlier shootout with officers in Watertown were also recovered, said one official briefed on the investigation. The authorities said they believe the suspects had fired roughly 80 rounds in that shootout, in which Tamerlan Tsarnaev was fatally wounded, the official said.  

(4) Tangentially related, for obvious reasons (via the CBC):

Canadian police say they have arrested two men and thwarted a plot to carry out a major terrorist attack on a Via passenger train in the Greater Toronto Area. The two accused are Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, from Toronto. They have been charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and "conspiring to murder persons unknownn for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group." The two men arrested are not Canadian citizens, police said Monday, but would not provide any details about their nationalities. The RCMP accused the two men of conspiring to commit an "al-Qaeda-supported" attack.

So the Canadians have thwarted two foreign nationals' plot to execute a "major" terrorist attack on a passenger train.  Couple the details of this unfolding story with the marathon bombings, and one has to wonder if violent Islamist extremists may be shifting their focus to softer targets.  Planes are hard.  Trains, sporting events, shopping malls, movie theaters are not.  Very worrisome.  Also of note: "Al-Qaeda supported," which differs from the events in Boston.  The Tsarnaev brothers were Chechen Islamists; no tie to AQ has been established.  An interesting side note: Chechen separatists aren't universally pleased with the Boston blasts.  Some view the attack as a boost to Russia, and therefore counter-productive.  I'll leave you with video of Sen. Lindsey Graham making the case that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be considered a "potential enemy combatant," with an eye toward intelligence gathering:

This interview explores an interesting gray area.  Graham suggests charging and trying Tsarnaev as a citizen in a civilian trial, but also subjecting him to a tough interrogation to extract actionable intel under the laws of war, even if that information can't be used against him at trial -- which looks like an open-and-shut case anyway, based on the feds' criminal complaint.