Older Tsarnaev brother: 'I don't understand' Americans

3:02 PM, Apr 19, 2013   |    comments
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, is shown in a photo from his Russian social media site account. WUSA via VK
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(USA TODAY) -- The Tsarnaev brothers -- suspects in the bombings at Monday's Boston Marathon -- were seen as modest and athletic, the kind of kids that made neighbors feel comfortable.

But conflict was apparently stirring inside the older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed by police in a shootout Friday. He told a photo essayist before a Golden Gloves boxing competition in Salt Lake City: "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them." He lamented the breakdown of "values," and worried that "people can't control themselves."

Police have identified Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the Boston bombing suspect killed in a dramatic firefight in Watertown. A massive police manhunt was underway for his brother Dzhokhar.

In that same photo essay, posted online around 2009 by former Boston University graduate student Johannes Hirn, Tamerlan Tsarnaev also expressed a dream of boxing for the U.S. Olympic team.

He described himself as a devout Muslim who also liked the raunchy spoof film Borat, in which the actor Sasha Baron Cohen plays a sex-obsessed TV reporter from Kazakhstan on a mission to try to understand American culture.

In an online photo layout showing him working out with other athletes, the older Tsarnaev was quoted as saying he was a native of Chechnya who fled the country with his family in the early 1990s and lived in Kazakhstan for several years before coming to the United States as a refugee. He expressed bitterness toward Russia, which has been locked in a struggle with Chechnyan separatists for many years.

In a series of photos that show him working out with other athletes at a martial arts center in Boston, Tamerlan poses in sweats, wearing blue and white boxing gloves. In one photo, he is stripped to the waist, flexing his muscles while sparring. He said he weighed 196 pounds. A caption said that he rarely takes his shirt off because "I'm very religious."

He also said that he no longer drinks alcohol or smokes tobacco. "God said no alcohol," he is quoted as saying.

Tsarnaev told Hirn that he had a girlfriend who is of Portuguese and Italian descent and who converted to Islam. "She's beautiful, man," he was quoted as saying. He joked that the white loafers he sometimes wore made him "dressed European style."

By Friday afternoon, the images appeared to have been removed from the photographer's website; however, a version of the page cached by Google was still available.

The thought that either of the Tsarnaevs could have unleashed the death and destruction that have kept Boston on high alert and moved it toward somber recovery this week seemed foreign to those who knew them.

Peter Manfredo Sr., a boxing coach in Narragansett, R.I., met Tamerlan Tsarnaev when the New England Golden Gloves championship team traveled to the nationals in Salt Lake City in 2009.

"He seemed like a normal guy," Manfredo said. "He was a pretty humble guy" who "took it in stride" when he lost his first fight. "When he lost, he said he'd chalk it up as a learning experience."

Manfredo said he and Tsarnaev went to dinner a couple times with other coaches and boxers.

Manfredo was surprised when he learned Friday that Tsarnaev was allegedly one of the Boston bombers. "Who knows what goes on in people's minds?" he said.

"Quiet, respectful," was how George McMasters, the director of aquatics at Harvard University, described Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, whom he said he hired as a lifeguard 2 1/2 years ago. Nothing ever came up that raised suspicions in McMasters, an ex-Marine who says he interrogated prisoners in Guantanamo Bay for the National Guard in 2003 and 2004 and helped search for terrorists in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.

"He kept to himself, was on time for work, watched the water, never had problems with other guards he was working with," McMasters, 56, told USA TODAY in a telephone interview from Watertown, Mass., a city locked down as police searched for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Friday morning.

"It is surreal for me, considering that I have been dealing with these guys for 10 years," McMasters said, referring to terror suspects. "And then I come home and they are in my backyard, in my pool."

As the search and shootout between police and the brothers unfolded, neighbors, employers, friends and others who encountered the two young men who came from a Russian region near Chechnya described the two brothers as the last people they'd suspect of setting off the bombs that killed three people and maimed more than 170 others on Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Ruslan Tsarni of Md. says 19-year-old Dzhozkar Tsarnaev should turn himself in to police and ask for forgiveness

"It is crazy, it is not possible, I can't believe it," Ruslan Tsarni, described as the boys' uncle, told reporters who came to his suburban Maryland neighborhood outside Washington, D.C. "Myself, when I heard this on TV news I was thinking, 'Who can do this stuff?' It is crazy, it is unbelievable."

When reporters told the uncle they were sorry, Tsarni replied: "I am sorry, too."

"Somebody radicalized them, but it is not my brother," Tsarni told reporters in another exchange later. The Associated Press identified the father as Anzor Tsarnaev and said it contacted him in Russia.

Ruslan Tsarni called his nephews "losers" and said he had not seen them in more than seven years. He added, "I respect this country, I love this country."

He said the brothers "put a shame on our family" and on ethnic Chechens.

Anzor Tsarnaev spoke with the Associated Press by telephone from the Russian city of Makhachkala on Friday.

"My son is a true angel," the elder Tsarnaev said of his younger son, the subject of a intense manhunt. "Dzhokhar is a second-year medical student in the U.S. He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here."

The young men were athletic. Tamerlan was a champion boxer. Dzhokhar was a wrestler at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Mass. He was named a Greater Boston League Winter All Star in 2011.

Both had pursued higher education, Tamerlan as a student for three semesters at Bunker Hill Community College from 2006-2008. Dzhokhar was studying accounting at the University of Massachusetts campus in Dartmouth.

The brothers had been living together on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, Mass. Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Md., told the Associated Press that the men lived together near Boston and have been in the United States for about a decade.

In 2010, Tamerlan received the prestigious Rocky Marciano Trophy given to the New England heavyweight champ, the Lowell Sun reported.

Larry Aaronson, a retired history teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where Dzhokhar graduated in 2011, is the brothers' neighbor and got to know Dzhokhar while taking photos of the high school wrestling team and other school activities.

"It's completely out of his character," Aaronson said of Dzhokhar's alleged role in the bombings. "Everything about him was wonderful. He was completely outgoing, very engaged, he loved the school. He was grateful not to be in Chechnya."

Dzhokhar was not overtly political or religious, Aaronson says. "He spoke and acted like any other high school kid."

Aaronson says he can't reconcile the young man he knows with the characterizations he's seeing in the media. "I cannot do it," he says. "I mean this from the deepest part of my heart: It's not possible it's the same person. It's just not possible."

James Auclair was one of the prior tenants of the Norfolk Street apartment in Cambridge before the Tsarnaevs moved in.

"It was the kind of place where people were coming and going all the time," said Auclair, 50, who lived in the unit from 1996 until about 1999.

In May 2011, as a high school senior, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was awarded a $2,500 City Scholarship from the city of Cambridge to pursue higher education.

Before moving to the United States, Dzhokhar attended School No. 1 in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia's North Caucasus that has become an epicenter of the Islamic insurgency that spilled over from Chechnya.

His profile on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte says he lists his languages as English, Russian and Nohchiyn Mott (a Chechen language). His worldview is described as "Islam" and he says his personal goal is "career and money."

Chuck Raasch, Judy Keen and Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY. Contributing Natalie DiBlasio, Jim Michaels, Associated Press

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