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MIT shooting triggers massive police operation in Boston

11:28 AM, Apr 19, 2013   |    comments
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BOSTON - The city and its suburbs are in lockdown this afternoon as a massive manhunt intensifies for the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. The search comes just hours after the suspect's older brother was killed in a dramatic shootout with police in nearby Watertown.

Authorities are focusing their hunt on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the brother of the dead suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26. Police say Dzhokhar is armed and fear he is wearing an explosive vest.

A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY that authorities have yet to search the Cambridge, Mass., residence where the brothers were living, in part because of concern that it may hold explosives or be booby-trapped.

During the pursuit of the overnight and early-morning pursuit of the suspects, the official said authorities recovered a handful of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including one in the possession of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. All of the devices appeared to be homemade "fused'' explosives.

Investigators have not found any formal links so far to an international terror group. Law enforcement officials are investigating the brothers' possible link to a third person, according to a law enforcement who was not authorized to comment publicly. The identity of that person was not immediately clear.

The shootings and Dzhokar's escape prompted Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to order the city of Boston and its surrounding suburbs locked down and its residents to remain in their homes. Businesses in Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Belmont, Cambridge and the Alston and Brighton neighborhoods of Boston were requested to remain closed and residents to remain indoors until the suspect is caught. Massachusetts shut down all mass transit, including buses and trains, in Boston and surrounding suburbs, Kurt Schwartz, director of Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said. Schools were closed and classes canceled at most universities.

The Tsarnaevs are believed to have moved to the USA from war-torn Chechnya in 2003, along with other family members. Tamerlan was studying engineering at Bunker Hill Community College in nearby Charlestown.

In an telephone interview from Russian with the Associated Press, the brothers' father, Anzor Tsarnaev, said Dzhokhar is "a true angel" and "an intelligent boy."

Ruslan Tsarni, an uncle who had not spoken to his brother's sons in several months, urged Dzhokhar to turn himself in to authorities. Meeting with reporters Friday, Tsani said he believed the brothers may have been recently "radicalized." Tsarni says he was unaware of any military or weapons training they may have received.

Their names were not known to law enforcement officials prior to the bombings, which killed three people and wounded 176. Authorities are reviewing the brothers' possible ties to Chechnya - an area of Russia plagued by Islamic insurgency - a law enforcement official who is not authorized to comment publicly told USA TODAY.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is believed to have dropped a backpack laden with explosives at the site of Monday's second explosion. He was pictured wearing a white baseball cap in video images released by the FBI Thursday. His page on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte says he attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, graduating in 2011, the year he won a $2,500 college scholarship from the city of Cambridge. On the website, his world view is described as "Islam" and he says his personal goal is "career and money."

Larry Aaronson, a neighbor and retired history teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 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."

The manhunt for the marathon bombing suspects turned into hot pursuit at 10:30 p.m., Thursday, when the two men robbed a 7-Eleven convenience store on the MIT campus in Cambridge. Minutes later, an MIT campus police officer was shot multiple times as he was sitting in his car. He was later pronounced dead at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was identified Friday as Sean Collier, 26, an MIT police officer since January 2012 and previously a civilian employee at the Somerville Police Department.

The suspects carjacked a Mercedes SUV in Cambridge, holding the driver at gunpoint for a half hour before he was released unharmed, according to the Middlesex district attorney's office. Police found the car and the suspects in Watertown, and pursued them into a residential neighborhood where gunfire was exchanged.

A transit police officer, Richard H. Donohue Jr., 33, was reported in critical condition after being shot, police said.

Witnesses report hearing many gunshots.

Massachusetts State Police Superintendent Timothy Alben said Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot by police in a gunfight following a pursuit that began late Thursday night in Cambridge and ended a short time later in Watertown. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Alben said the suspects also threw explosives from the car. Residents, witnesses and media in the area heard at least two large booms.

"I heard sirens, then a ton of gunshots,'' said Adam Healy, 31, a behavioral specialist for autism who lives less than a mile from the scene. "And then I heard an explosion amid the gunshots. After the explosion, the sky lit up."

Dan MacDonald, 40, sitting in a second-story Watertown apartment, said he first heard sirens, then gunshots.

"It was about 10 to 15 shots. then there was an onslaught," he said. "There were 25 to 60 shots within 45 seconds. Then the shots stopped and boom. It was like dynamite."

Alvi Tsarnaev, another uncle of the suspects, said Friday that Tamerlan phoned him Thursday night at about 7 p.m., the first time they had spoken in about two years.

"He said, 'I love you and forgive me,' " said Alvi Tsarnaev, who lives in Montgomery Village, Md. He wasn't seeking forgiveness for the bombing, but asking for forgiveness because he hadn't spoken to him in so long.

"We were not talking for a long time because there were some problems," Alvi Tsarnaev said without elaborating. "We were not happy with each other."

They spoke for about five minutes, he said. Tamerlan, who is Muslim, started out by saying, "Salam Aleikum," an Arabic greeting meaning "peace on you." He then praised his uncle for keeping up with his Muslim prayers.

"He told me he was happy," he said. "He was asking, 'Did you pay your mortgage?' I told him I was trying to pay. I asked him what he was doing. He said, 'I fix cars, I got married, got a baby.'

"Killing innocent people, I cannot forgive that," Alvi Tsarnaev said. "It's crazy. I don't believe it now even. How can I forgive this?"

The Lowell Sun reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a Golden Gloves boxer who told the newspaper that "I like the USA" after winning his first fight in 2004 in Lowell. He fought in the 178-pound novice class.

According to the Sun, Tamerlan and his family moved to the USA in 2003, hoping to start a new life after leaving Grozny, Chechnya, much of which was destroyed in the conflict with Russia. "America has a lot of jobs. That's something Russia doesn't have. You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work," he told The Sun.

Contributing: John Bacon and Gary Strauss in McLean, Va.; Melanie Eversley in Boston, Judy Keen in Chicago and Shawn Cohen of The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News.

USA Today

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