Feature

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

An outburst during the imam's sermon at his local mosque showed just how far he’d descended into a hard-line version of Islam.

Three months ago, Tamerlan Tsarnaev angrily interrupted a sermon at his local mosque in Cambridge, Mass. The imam had praised Martin Luther King Jr., and Tamerlan began shouting, calling the preacher a “nonbeliever” and a “hypocrite” who was “contaminating people’s minds.” Tamerlan’s outburst, said The Wall Street Journal, shocked other people at the service, and showed just how far he’d descended into a rigid, hard-line version of Islam. Until recent years, his family and acquaintances had known Tamerlan to be a quiet but friendly amateur boxer who liked to throw parties and drink. But as he grew more devout, he became increasingly withdrawn and alienated. “I don’t have a single American friend,” he said in a Web profile in 2010. “I don’t understand them.”

Born in Kyrgyzstan to Chechen parents, Tsarnaev, 26, and his family immigrated in 2002 to a working-class neighborhood of Cambridge, where they often struggled to make ends meet. Tamerlan proved to be a “proud but angry young man who never quite achieved his own idea of the American dream,” said Reuters.com. “Cocky and charismatic,” he became Golden Gloves champion of New England and aspired to represent the U.S. at the Olympics. But he struggled at Bunker Hill Community College and in finding jobs, and spent much of his time smoking, drinking, and womanizing. His mother says that in 2008 she urged him to embrace his Islamic religion to become a better man. Soon, friends say, Tamerlan’s personality became darker and brooding, and in 2009 he was charged with assaulting a girlfriend. After that, he “kind of disconnected himself,” said Luis Vasquez, a former high school classmate. “Something turned, and it was dramatic.”

In 2010 Tamerlan married an American woman, Katherine Russell, a doctor’s daughter from suburban Rhode Island who converted to Islam. She worked long hours as a home health aide supporting the family while Tsarnaev stayed home with their 3-year-old daughter, said the New YorkDaily News. Last year, he spent six months in southern Russia, near his family’s homeland in Chechnya, and his interest in a radical form of Islam deepened. After he returned, Tamerlan posted a video on his YouTube account of a speech by a Russian jihadist leader, and a ballad by a Chechen singer. Its title: “Life is devoted to jihad.”

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