Boston Marathon bombing: Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a boxer. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a wrestler. Both were terrorists

The Tsarneav family fled war-torn Chechnya in pursuit of the American dream. So how did their sons turn out to be America’s nightmare?

On Thursday night Alvi Tsarni received an unexpected phone call from his nephew, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The pair had not spoken for four years because of a family dispute but Tamerlan had a simple request of his uncle. He said: “Forgive me.”

As the pair spoke, images of the two rucksack-carrying prime suspects believed to have caused the carnage at the Boston Marathon were being beamed across America.

Within hours Tamerlan, 26, a talented amateur boxer, would lie mortally wounded in a Boston suburb after an apparent suicide dash into a hail of police bullets. His 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar, the other suspect, was the subject of a manhunt that paralysed the entire city.

The extraordinary drama which unfolded was the culminating chapter of lives that turned two young Muslims from the war-torn former Soviet fiefdom of Chechnya first into model US immigrants, but then into twisted bombers – who, according some reports, lingered after Monday's twin blasts to examine the results of their work.

The banditry that occurred in the Boston suburbs of Watertown and Cambridge must have seemed impossible on 16 May 2011 when the winners of a prized scholarship for graduating high-school students attended a formal civic reception to receive their $2,500 prize.

Among them was Dzhokhar, who was captured grinning proudly in a graduation photograph, sporting the same shock of unruly curly brown hair seen curling from under his white baseball cap in this week's CCTV images. A model pupil from the highly rated Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, he had been a popular classmate, acting in plays and featuring as an "all-star" in the school wrestling team.

The apparent reality that this handsome, carefree young man, whose father wrongly believed had embarked on studies to become a doctor, had along with his elder sibling become a calculating murderer was yesterday too hard for his family to take.

Speaking from Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a Caucasus state neighbouring Chechnya, the men's father, Anzor, said: "My son is a true angel. Dzhokhar is a second-year medical student in the US. He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here."

The car mechanic, who had originally lived with the family in a rented flat in Cambridge before travelling to Dagestan following treatment for a brain tumour, added: "They were set up. I saw it on television; they killed my older son Tamerlan."

Asked about the phone call from Tamerlan, Alvi Tsarni, who spoke in halting English at his home in the Boston area, said: "Yesterday he called me and said 'forgive me, from now we will be together forever'. If he did this, I'm sorry. It's crazy. It's not possible. I can't believe it."

There was little evidence of radicalisation as the 19-year-old went about his life. On his page on VKontakte, a Russian-language version of Facebook, Dzhokhar listed "career and money" as his principal interests. He listed his favourite song as "Hey Sexy Lady" by Shaggy. But when asked for his world view, he answered "Islam" and had recently added to links to jihadist material on the website. Larry Aaronson, a former teacher at Rindge and Latin, told the Boston Globe: "If someone were to ask me what the kid was like, I would say he had a heart of gold. He was as gracious as possible." A former classmate described Dzhokhar as a "normal American kid".

If any seeds of murderous intent were apparent yesterday, they lay with Tamerlan rather than his younger brother. The stocky heavyweight had dropped out of an engineering course to concentrate on his boxing career.

Like his brother, Tamerlan was outwardly at ease with his American identity. In a photo essay by a local photographer in 2010, he can be seen posing outside the gym in front of his silver Mercedes, sporting sunglasses and white slip-on shoes. But he told the photographer: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."

He added that he was "very religious", eschewing alcohol and complaining that "there are no values any more". Such values did not prevent his arrest a year earlier on suspicion of beating up his then girlfriend.

Despite their Chechen roots, the amount of time they spent in the country seems to have been limited as the family of two boys and two girls, Bella and Amina, shifted around a succession of former Soviet states including Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Dagestan. It was from Dagestan that the family eventually travelled to Massachusetts with Dzhokhar arriving in 2002 and his brother following two years later.

The family were assisted by members of Boston's small Chechen community. But despite some academic success for the brothers, the family was clearly struggling. Financial help was sought from relatives while Anzor, a talented mechanic but unable to speak English, scratched a meagre income at $10 an hour. The mother of the two apparent bombers, Zubeidat, 45, was last year charged with stealing $1,600 (£1,000) of clothes.

Along with it seems to have come the slow slide into radicalisation for the two brothers which reached its horrific zenith on Monday as they mixed with the crowds enjoying the proudest day in Boston's sporting calendar.

It emerged that both brothers had become increasingly interested in Islam and returned for significant periods of time to Dagestan, perhaps crossing into Chechnya where rebel leaders have increasingly allied themselves with al-Qa'ida and militant Islamists.

Tamerlan appears to have flirted with criminality, listing a series of texts on how to forge identity documents on his Amazon wishlist.

For another uncle of the two men, the meaning of their actions was grimly clear. Ruslan Tsarni, who lives near Washington DC and is a director of a London-based oil services company, branded Tamerlan "a loser", adding: "I always told those two, radical Islam has always been there, just do your business. Work, go to school, be useful. Know why you came to America. I am not sympathising with them." He added: "I wish they never existed. They do not deserve to exist on this earth."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

The 26-year-old had been a talented amateur boxer who said he hoped one day to compete for the United States at the Olympics. He died at a medical centre in a Boston suburb after being shot by police, and as a suspect in America's worst terrorist attack since 9/11

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Tamerlan's 19-year-old brother was named as the second suspect in the Boston bombing. Once hailed as a model student at the highly-rated Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, he became the subject of a manhunt which paralysed Boston. His father yesterday described him as "a true angel".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power