The Bombers

“Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?”

-President Barack Obama

The Tsarnaev brothers were born in the Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, living there and in the Russian republic of Dagestan, after their Chechen parents had been forced there after WWII. Their family immigrated to the US in the early 2000s, seeking political asylum. The Tsarnaevs resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the brothers attended local schools.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

Tamerlan was fifteen years old when he arrived in Boston on an asylum visa. With memories of his war-torn home in the back of his mind, Tamerlan struggled to assimilate into Western life, turning to drugs and alcohol. He attended and graduated from a local Cambridge high school. When he was rejected from his dream university, he attended community college, only to drop out after three semesters. Tamerlan then attempted to focus on a career in boxing instead. His father, also a boxer, approved of and supported his decision. However, his dreams of becoming an Olympic boxer came crashing down in 2010 when the rules for qualifying matches changed. Because he was a non-passport holder, Tamerlan was barred from competing. He was resentful and felt as though this was done to take away his chances in order to benefit American-born boxers (Speckhard, 2013).

In an attempt to find an outlet for a purposeful identity after his failed education and boxing career, Tamerlan turned to religion. “He fell under the influence of a Muslim convert named Misha who apparently led him into a stricter Salafi interpretation of Islam” (Speckhard, 2013). In 2010, Tamerlan married an American girl named Katherine Russel, after she had converted to Islam and began wearing a hijab. They had one daughter together. While living in Boston, Tamerlan attended a mosque “associated with radical elements that allegedly espoused views that embrace a narrative of Muslims around the world being under attack alongside a duty to aide them” (Speckhard, 2013). It was the combination of his attendance of this mosque, coupled with the influence from his Islamic tutor, Misha, that instilled extremist ideologies in Tamerlan. Additionally, “having come as an asylum seeker from a war-torn area, he was sensitive to the plight of Muslims in other parts of the world and likely easily drawn into the Al-Qaeda narrative that Muslims were oppressed” and under attack by Western powers (Speckhard, 2013). Once he was pulled into this narrative, Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan for six months to join his oppressed counterparts (Britannica). While there, he began to take on feelings of responsibility towards their Western enemies, as he had been living there for the latter half of his life. He returned home to the United States with the intent to attack, following instructions for “lone wolf” terrorists he had obtained from Inspire magazine, including instructions on how to make the bombs (Britannica).

After carrying out the bombings, Tamerlan was shot and injured in a shootout with local law enforcement in Watertown, MA. He was then run over by Dzhokhar in their stolen vehicle in an attempt to escape. Tamerlan was pronounced dead in the hospital that same night. He is buried in a Muslim cemetery in Doswell, Virginia, after cemeteries in Massachusetts refused to allow his burial (CNN).

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: 


It has been suggested that “without his brother’s negative influence, Dzhokhar would have likely made it” (Speckhard, 2013). Dzhokhar was an adherent to his older brother’s extremist beliefs, mystified by his passion and his plan. He attended the same polarizing mosque as his brother, and lived with him as well when he wasn’t at college. At the time of the bombings, Dzhokhar was a nineteen-year-old sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was described as a popular student with many friends (Britannica). Similar to his brother at one point in his life, he fell into drugs and alcohol, selling marijuana on campus to make money to pay off student loans.

Following the death of his brother after they carried out the marathon bombings, Dzhokhar hid in a boat in a backyard in Watertown, MA. It was reported that he had inscribed a note while hiding in the boat, taking responsibility for the bombings “calling the attacks retribution for the Unite States’ military action against innocent Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq” stating that “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims” ( He believed that his brother was deemed a martyr in paradise for his actions.

On April 22, Dzhokhar was initially charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and was charged as a U.S. citizen. In the months following, he was indicted on 30 charges, ranging from state criminal charges, such as murder, to federal charges, such as conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. He pleaded not guilty to all 30 charges.

Dzhokhar was found guilty on all 30 charges on April 8, 2015 and was sentenced to death on federal charges on May 15, 2015. Additionally, he was ordered to pay more than $101 million in restitution to the victims (CNN). He was held in a Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado upon sentencing.

In December of 2019, Dzhokhar’s lawyers began an appeal for his sentencing, arguing that he did not receive a fair trial by jury and that his death sentence be rescinded. They argued that it was virtually impossible to find an unbiased jury in the city of Boston, as the city was viewed as the victim of the attack (npr), as well as the fact that the death penalty should not apply to him because he was only nineteen when he committed the crime (The New Yorker). The defense won, and in July 202o, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence was overturned on the basis of an unfair trial ( It was ruled that Dzhokhar be given a new penalty phase trial and new jurors can decide if he be sentenced to death (CNN).

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 27, is currently being held in the nation’s most secure federal prison in Florence, Colorado, alongside some of the most infamous criminal figures in the world, including Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the “Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski.