Older Bombing Suspect Became More Devout In Recent Years

Robert Siegel talks with Wall Street Journal reporter Anton Troianovski about the family and religious life of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev had become more devout and outspoken in recent years, raising concerns from his father and some members of his mosque.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect who was killed last week, was especially close to his mother. She encouraged his recent turn to religiosity. She heard from him last week after the bombing. These and many other details of the Tsarnaev family are in today's Wall Street Journal report headlined Boston Marathon Bombings: Turn To Religion Split Bomb Suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Home.

It's by a team of reporters, one of whom, Anton Troianovski, joins us now from Boston. Welcome.

ANTON TROIANOVSKI: Hello.

SIEGEL: Let's start with what you've learned about the older brother, Tamerlan, and his mother. When did they talk last week, first of all?

TROIANOVSKI: They talked twice last week. Once was right after the bombing. His mother, Zubeidat, phoned him - she was in Russia, he was here in Boston - and asked whether he was safe. He replied, Mama, why are you worrying, and laughed. The second time Tamerlan called her, it was during that crazy night, Thursday night. And he told her the police were chasing. And she told one of my colleagues that his last words were, Mama, I love you, and then the phone went silent.

SIEGEL: And this was probably within the last hour of his life, as far as we...

TROIANOVSKI: Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...as we know. And she was an influence on him in becoming more devout, becoming more devout in his Islam.

TROIANOVSKI: Right. We learned that she became concerned, you know, that he was going too far down a road of alcohol and girls and just a life that she didn't think was right. But interestingly, it was then Tamerlan who stopped drinking and eventually gave up boxing and started encouraging her to be more devout.

SIEGEL: And to cover herself like a devout Muslim woman. The father did not share this religiosity.

TROIANOVSKI: He did not. And we understand that's one reason why they split some years ago.

SIEGEL: Today's story recounts Tamerlan Tsarnaev's vocal opposition to devout Muslims celebrating American holidays: Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July. He did it in the mosque, I gather. He did it elsewhere. It was known to people.

TROIANOVSKI: That was one of the interesting things I found in Cambridge. He frequented a halal meat shop. The shopkeeper there told me a story from last Thanksgiving time. On his meat counter, he had posted a sign advertising Thanksgiving turkeys, and Tamerlan, he said, came in, spotted the sign and grew angry. He referred to the Thanksgiving turkeys as kufar, an Arabic reference to non-Muslims. And it was around that same time, actually, that Tamerlan had his first outburst in that mosque at Friday prayers.

The speaker at the Friday sermon was saying that we, this congregation, just as we celebrate Muhammad's birthday, we can celebrate American holidays like July Fourth and Thanksgiving. Tamerlan stood up and protested and said, you know, he disagreed with celebrating Muhammad's birthday as well as celebrating these American holidays.

SIEGEL: Anton, the story that you and your colleagues have reported for The Journal is certainly consistent with the Tamerlan Tsarnaev becoming a much more devout Muslim and being against assimilation, if that was defined as having a turkey on Thanksgiving even. But is there anything there that says he connected up with terrorists or he embraced jihadism at some point?

TROIANOVSKI: I think that's absolutely the right question to ask. We don't know. I mean, to go back to those outbursts at the mosque, you know, there were two times that he did the highly unusual thing of interrupting the sermon at the Friday prayer, the first time being that sermon about American holidays, the second time being in January when the speaker compared Martin Luther King Jr. to the Prophet Muhammad. Yeah.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. But as for the step from hothead to terrorist, that was not evident to anybody.

TROIANOVSKI: At this point, I think that's one of the big mysteries that folks are trying to better understand, is to what extent was there a connection between his devout Muslim views and any radical movements and, of course, what happened last week.

SIEGEL: Anton Troianovski, thank you very much for talking with us.

TROIANOVSKI: Thanks so much for having me.

SIEGEL: Mr. Troianovski is a Wall Street Journal reporter. He and his colleagues wrote a story in today's paper about the Tsarnaev family.

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