WASHINGTON – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made his first public court appearance Wednesday, leaning over a microphone and repeating again and again in a Russian accent “not guilty” to potential capital murder charges in a federal courtroom packed with victims and their families getting their first look at the man who allegedly killed three and injured 260 in the Boston Marathon bombing.
His left arm in a cast, his jaw apparently bruised, his eye swollen, he flashed a wry smile at his two sisters in Muslim dress, then blew them a kiss as he was led away after the arraignment, as described by news media sources. He faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction, that lasted no more than 7 minutes. One of the sisters was holding a baby. The other was crying.
The 19-year-old was driven to and from the courthouse in a white van escorted by a three-vehicle motorcade with heavily armed police. Outside, a small group of Tsarnaev supporters chanted “Justice for Dzhokhar” and jockeyed on the sidewalk with victims and others still visibly angry over the April 15 bombing.
His brief appearance at the federal courthouse in Boston, described in wire service reports, came as Senate and House lawmakers in Washington held separate hearings into “Lessons Learned” from the bombing and drew renewed criticism from Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis that the FBI should have shared information about a trip to Russia by Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, and his connection to the Chechen separatist region.
“There should be a full and equal partnership,” Davis told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, ratcheting up his earlier frustrations that the FBI withheld from local police information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his trip to Russia.
At the House Homeland Security Committee session, chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, complained bitterly that the FBI had refused to participate in the hearing, even turning down an offer to meet with committee members in a closed meeting. “What concerns me greatly is that the problem at the heart of preventing the Boston bombings — the failure to share information — is being witnessed now in this very room,” McCaul said.
But Paul Bresson, a top FBI spokesman in Washington, defended the bureau, saying the FBI has briefed the House committee “on several occasions” and advised McCaul on July 3 that it could not participate in the hearing because the bombing case remains “an ongoing investigation and a pending prosecution.”
Bresson added, “We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the judicial process while it is ongoing.”
Boston FBI officials have said local police on the Joint Terrorism Task Force would have had computer access to any leads and investigations worked by law enforcement agencies, and could have learned about the FBI’s investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev on behalf of the Russian government.
But Davis saw it differently, saying his officers were kept in the dark. “We have four officers who are assigned to the JTTF,” the police commissioner said. “There’s one in each terrorism squad. But we were not aware of the information on Tsarnaev and his travel overseas.
“I’m not saying that we would have done anything different had we had the information that the FBI had prior to this,” Davis said. “But I am saying that there should be a full and equal partnership where everyone is sharing equally.”
The Boston police commissioner said that it would put his patrol officers and detectives in jeopardy not knowing in advance that someone like Tamerlan had been the target of an investigation by the FBI and Russian law enforcement over his alleged ties to violent groups in Chechnya.
“When my officer stops Tsarnaev or someone like him,” Davis said, “we’re blind as to the prior information, and that puts my officers at risk. So I feel very, very strongly about this.”
As it turned out, the Tsarnaev brothers were shooting at police and throwing pressure cooker bombs at officers trying to arrest them several nights after the bombing. Tamerlan was killed in the fire fight, and Dzhokhar was arrested the following day when police used to gunfire to force him out of a dry docked boat.
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Davis also said he was uncomfortable that federal law enforcement officials read Dzhokhar his Miranda right against self-incrimination before he was charged a couple of days later. He indicated that it might have been better to try to keep the only living Tsarnaev brother talking.
“We did have an evolving threat for a period of time after those bombs were thrown,” he said, “and I can see that there can be unfolding situations where it might not be appropriate.”
At the House hearing McCaul noted that al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula’s “Inspire” magazine is already praising the Tsarnaev brothers and using the Boston bombing to recruit new terrorists. It included a poem under the alias, “Tamerlan 2” that went:
“Brother residing in the West, grab your chance and walk steadfastly towards your goal. As for me here in Yemen, whenever I move around with explosive around my waist, I wish I am in America.”
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