Why Did The Boston Bombers Do What They Did?


The Boston Marathon bombers have been caught and the city has breathed a sigh of relief. However, in the aftermath of such a tragedy like this one, everyone winds up looking for answers. No one knows exactly why the Boston bombers did what they did except the men themselves, and so far they aren’t talking.

The Boston Bombing Perpetrators

A fair amount is known about the two Tsarnaev brothers, though, that can be used to piece together a basic idea of their thought processes. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers, was killed in a police shootout. Younger brother Dzhokhar was injured in his escape attempts but eventually captured alive. However, his injuries were severe enough that he was left temporarily unable to speak.

The bombing was not the first time that the elder Tsarnaev brother popped up on law enforcement’s radar. In 2011, the Russian authorities requested that the FBI question Tamerlan regarding potential ties to Muslim extremists headquartered in the Caucasus. The initial investigation turned up nothing. Tamerlan returned to Russia for six months during 2012, but it is unknown at this time what he did while he was there.

An uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers, Ruslan Tsarni, dates Tamerlane’s potential religious extremism to approximately 2009. Although the Tsarnaev brothers were both born in the primarily Muslim south Asian country of Kyrgyrstan to Chechen parents, he claims that any extreme religious views Tamerlane may have embraced were picked up on the streets of Cambridge (Massachusetts). He says that in 2009, Tamerlan’s behavior and that of his American-born wife changed dramatically.

The same uncle called the Tsarnaev brothers “losers” after learning of what they had done, and stated that he was ashamed to be related to them. He said it was his belief that hatred was responsible for their actions and that to pin it on Islam was a fraud. If the brothers did, in fact, embrace radical Islam, Tsarni has no idea where it might have come from. He describes his brother, Tamerlan and Dzhokar’s father, as peace-loving, hard-working, and in no way responsible for his sons’ actions.

The Tsarnaev family came to the U.S. many years ago. Dzhokhar is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Tamerlan had a permanent resident visa. Although the 2011 F.B.I. inquiry turned up nothing, it is now believed that a YouTube page containing videos embracing some sentiments of jihad belonged to him.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev showed even fewer signs of potential Islamic extremism. The 19-year-old was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and when the sketches of the suspects were initially released, no one in his dorm believed it could be him. However, he also apparently showed little remorse, and was seen partying on campus and attending classes during the days after the bombings.

Zubeidat Tsarnaev, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar’s mother, was apparently either influenced by Tamerlane’s religious fervor or the cause of it. A client of Zubeidat’s in-home spa business stopped coming to the apartment it was based out of when Zubeidat started becoming more vocal about her strong religious views. Zubeidat apparently believed in anti-Muslim American conspiracy theories and once told her client that her son had shown her online material proving it was true.

However, Zubeidat and her husband Anzor stated that their sons must have been framed after their identification and the subsequent manhunt. They told Russian television that Tamerlan was a religious man but had never spoken about jihad or embraced any violent action. Dzhokhar stated his religion as Muslim on a Russian social networking site, but he was quieter about it than his brother. He was, however, proud to be a Chechen and would correct anyone who referred to him as Russian.

Whether Tamerlan’s world views significantly influenced those of his younger brother is still unknown. What is known, though, is that Dzhokhar looked up to his older brother and enjoyed speaking about him. Many people in his life who had never met Tamerlan had nonetheless heard Dzhokar speak fondly of him.

Glamorizing the Perpetrators of Mass Violence

Published photo of dead bomber.

Whenever a tragedy like this strikes, everyone wants to know as much as possible about the situation. Every news station runs coverage of the incident, and they all want something about their coverage to stand out. Unintentionally glamorizing the perpetrators of the crime is common.

News agencies want to capture everyone’s attention. If viewers turn aside from coverage that lingers on who the perpetrators are and what their stories might be, news agencies will shift their focus to other things that viewers do pay attention to. Moving and important stories can still be told about the topic without focusing so narrowly on the people who committed the crime.

Especially when the point of a crime is to draw attention to a group of people, such as radical Muslims, providing that attention is validating their point. While it is human nature to want to know everything about things that are hard to understand, in-depth news coverage of the perpetrators is just giving them what they want. Shifting the attention from the perpetrators to the victims and heroes of the situation does not minimize its impact on society, but it does deny the criminals their hour in the spotlight. With that being said it saddens me to shine a light on these perpetrators as we do not know if mental illness or yearning for attention is the driving force. So, I hope that with understanding someone close to the bombing can be a tiny bit more at ease. However having gone through personal tragedy myself I know that is not always the case.

Question at hand: How do you think the media should react to situations like this?

Dylan Johnson is a freelance photographer and creative director living in NYC. He works at Security Options in Oklahoma City as a creative director and online marketer. He also shoots for the Brooklyn Vegan and Impose Magazine.


  1. To me, and I think you allude to this as well without saying it outright, it looks like Tamerlan was the mastermind behind the whole think and Jahar was basically just influenced by and going along with his older brother’s wishes.

    Tamerlan definitely seems he could possibly be radicalized Islam, but what we know of Jahar… he doesn’t fit the same description.

    (there are also accounts by Tamerlan’s wife’s friends that she was brainwashed by him…. maybe dude knew how to brainwash people. Maybe he brainwashed his mother, wife, and brother)

  2. I’ll admit the pictures are disturbing, but at this day and age, they are going to get around if they are on news sites or not.

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