Suspects' Mother Described as "Quoting Conspiracy Theories"

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 19 2013 6:44 PM

Suspects' Mother Described as "Quoting Conspiracy Theories" 

166984323
Federal agents descend on the home of a suspect-at-large in the Boston Marathon bombing and nearby Watertown shooting, on Norfolk Street April 19, 2013

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

While the manhunt in Boston continues, those who knew the marathon bombing suspects have started filling out the details of their lives. One of the most provocative accounts was posted to Tumblr this afternoon by Alyssa Lindley Kilzer, a grad student in Scotland. Kilzer says she was a customer of their mother, who ran a makeshift spa out of their Norfolk Street house. 

Her account, based on her visits to the house three times a year for about 5 years, is getting some attention from those curious about the bombers' background (read: almost everyone). But it's bound to spark more interest for her characterization of the family's particular Muslim practice. While many of the details would only seem strange to someone unfamiliar with Muslim life, some of the more conservative parts of their practice clearly troubled Kilzer at the time, and even more so now. Kilzer claims, for instance, that both daughters in the family had arranged marriages quite young, and originally claimed that the mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, wore a burka outside (Kilzer has since edited her account to clarify that the mother wore hijab). Here's more: 

"Between 2008 and 2012 I got to know her pretty well. During those 2-3 hours I spent a lot of time asking her about her personal life and her family. (I’m a writer and tend to ask people exhaustive questions about their personal lives, especially as interesting a character as this.) The hijab* shouldn’t have surprised me so much, because she had become increasingly religious while I was in college. She often mentioned Allah, and the lessons of the Koran. “Allah will reward him,” she said once about my brother, when I told her that my brother and mom were close, and that I thought my brother would take care of my mom later in life. She started to refuse to see boys that had gone through puberty, as she had consulted a religious figure and he had told her it was sacrilegious. She was often fasting. She told me that she had cried for days when her oldest son, Tamerlan, told her that he wanted to move out, going against her culture’s tradition of the son staying in the house with the mother until marriage." 
Advertisement

Kilzer also claims that the mother's beliefs increasingly made her uncomfortable, which partially led to her ceasing to visit Tsarnaeva in 2012: 

"She started quoting conspiracy theories, telling me that she thought 9-11 was purposefully created by the American government to make America hate muslims. “It’s real,” she said, “My son knows all about it. You can read on the internet.” I have to say I felt kind of scared and vulnerable when she said this, as I am distinctly American, and was lying practically naked in her living room."

Kilzer's account is interesting, but anecdotal. Nevertheless, it's one of the first detailed characterizations of the family's religious practice we've had, so it's sure to shape the narrative early. That, in itself, makes it notable. Her description of the family's background — and the personalities of the two brothers — vaguely matches up to other accounts we've heard today. "I only met Tamerlan twice," she writes of the older of the siblings, "and he wasn’t friendly." 

*This post has been updated to reflect changes made to the original tumblr piece. 

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.