Burner Phones, a Scrawled Message on a Boat, and Other Information from the Indictment against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 27 2013 3:38 PM

Burner Phones, a Scrawled Message on a Boat, and Other Information from the Indictment against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

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Investigators work around the boat where Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev was found hiding after a massive manhunt.

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

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As my colleague Josh Voorhees noted earlier this afternoon, a Massachusetts grand jury has returned a 30-count indictment against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old college student who, along with his older brother, Tamerlan, allegedly detonated two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April, killing three people and wounding many more.* Seventeen of the 30 charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could bring a life sentence or the death penalty.

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Much of what the indictment says, we already know. There is some information here that’s new, or new to me, at least. In May, CBS News’ John Miller reported that Tsarnaev had penned something of a confession during the hours he was hiding inside a drydocked boat in Watertown, Mass., taking responsibility for the marathon bombings and dismissing the victims as “collateral damage.” The indictment confirms that Tsarnaev did write a message on the boat’s interior wall and beams. It also offers a few excerpts:

“The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians;” “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished;” “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all;” “Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [unintelligible] it is allowed;” and “Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”

The key count against Tsarnaev is the first one, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death. In the course of setting up the charge, the indictment notes several “overt acts” committed by the Tsarnaevs to further the conspiracy. There’s some interesting stuff here, too:

-- It’s been widely reported that the Tsarnaevs were allegedly inspired by Inspire, an online magazine published by al-Qaida that offered instructions on how to make a pressure cooker bomb. But sometime before the bombings, according to the indictment, Tsarnaev went online and downloaded other, thematically similar works. One book—“The Slicing Sword, Against the One Who Forms Allegiances With the Disbelievers and Takes Them as Supporters Instead of Allah, His Messenger and the Believers”—carried a foreword by Anwar al-Awlaki and instructed Muslims “not to give their allegiance to governments that invade Muslim lands." Another book, “Defense of the Muslim Lands, the First Obligation After Imam,” is said to advocate “violence designed to terrorize the perceived enemies of Islam, among other things.” Another book “glorifies martyrdom in the service of violent jihad.”

-- According to the indictment, “on or about April 5, 2013, Tamerlan Tsarnaev used the internet to order electronic components that could be adapted for use in making IEDs.” Since the bombs were detonated on April 15, that would mean the Tsarnaevs had less than two weeks to test these components and incorporate them into the bombs. That’s fast work.

-- In the days before the bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apparently bought a burner phone and registered the account under the name “Jahar Tsarni.” On April 15, at 2:48 p.m., Dzhokhar called Tamerlan from the burner phone and had a brief conversation. One minute later, according to the indictment, the two men detonated their bombs.

-- On the night of April 18, when they set out to make their last stand, the Tsarnaevs were apparently armed with “five IEDs, a Ruger P95 9mm semiautomatic handgun, ammunition for the Ruger, a machete, and a hunting knife.” That same night, after their photos hit the media, Dzhokhar apparently texted a college friend and said, “If you want u can go to my room and take what you want.”

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be arraigned on July 10.

*Correction, June 27, 2013: This post originally stated that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is 20 years old.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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