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Tamerlan Tsarnaev was happy to pose as a fighter.
The 26-year-old—who along with his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is a suspect in the Boston bombing—was a prize-winning heavyweight boxer who harbored hopes of competing for the United States at the Olympics.
Why he may have turned against his adopted country was unclear in the hours after he was identified by the FBI and later killed on the streets of Watertown, Mass.
But in a photo essay titled, “Will Box for Passport,” it was clear that Tsarnaev styled himself as an expert in boxing and American culture. He took a semester off school to train for the National Golden Gloves competition in Salt Lake City. (USA Today reports that Tsarnaev attended Bunker Hill Community College, where he was in the accounting program.) And in 2010, he received the prestigious Rocky Marciano Trophy as the New England heavyweight champ.
Tsarnaev said in the photo essay that while he hoped to be selected for the U.S. Olympic team, he did not have a single American friend. “I don’t understand them,” he said.
Ruslan Tsarni, a man who identified himself as the suspects’ uncle, described both his nephews as “losers” who were unable to fit in.
The older Tsarnaev claimed to love the movie Borat, in spite of finding some of the jokes a bit too much. He also described himself as a “very religious” Muslim. “There are no values anymore,” he said. “People can’t control themselves.”
A YouTube account created last year under the name Tamerlan Tsarnaev features several extremist videos. It was created in August, three weeks after his return on July 17, 2012 from a trip to Moscow, from what travel records obtained by NBC New York indicated was a six-month overseas trip. Investigators said they want to know if Tsarnaev received any terror training while he was out of the country.
Tamerlan leaves behind a widow, 24-year-old Katherine Russell. They have a 3-year-old child together. Her family released a statement Friday, saying “We cannot begin to comprehend how this horrible tragedy occurred…In the aftermath of the Patriot’s Day horror, we know that we never knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev.”
According to the website spotcrime.com, Tamerlan was arrested in July 2009 after assaulting his girlfriend. His father believes that Tamerlan was denied U.S. citizenship because of the domestic-violence episode.
Known to the FBI as suspect No. 1, Tsarnaev was allegedly seen in surveillance footage at the time of the Boston Marathon in a black baseball cap. Tamerlan and his brother Dzhokhar are suspected of carrying out the fatal terrorist attack on Boston’s Marathon Monday that killed three people and injured more than 170. They allegedly executed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology patrol officer, carjacked an SUV and its driver, and hurled bombs during a wild chase Thursday night.
The younger brother, Dzhokhar, is currently in an area hospital and will remain in federal custody after being captured Friday night. He was described by his father as a “true angel” in a phone interview with the Associated Press. The father said his younger son was a medical student, though that has not been confirmed.
Records show Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan on July 22, 1993, and became a naturalized American citizen last year. He has a Massachusetts driver’s license and is a resident of Cambridge.
Rebecca Mazur, a classmate of Dzhokhar, told msnbc’s Al Sharpton that he was “very friendly, very lighthearted, maybe a little shy.” A fellow lifeguard described him as hilarious.
“He was a nice guy. He was shy,” high school friend Sierra Schwartz said. “It was almost physically painful to even call him nice now after this absolute tragedy that happened, but at the time, as we knew him, he was funny.”
Here & Now host Robin Young’s nephew is a close friend and former classmate of Dzhokhar’s. Both attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public high school in Cambridge, Mass. High school classmates described Dzhokhar as an excellent student and athlete, and in 2011, he was one of 45 students to receive a $2,500 scholarship from the City of Cambridge. “This is nothing that we’d even expect,” Young’s nephew said.
A Twitter account under the name Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shows a feed of typical teenage banter, but tweets from the last week are now being parsed for extra meaning. Two hours after the bombing, the account holder tweeted, “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people.” A day later, the tweeter wrote: “I’m a stress-free kind of guy.”
The brothers were born to a family with ties to Chechnya, which has been plagued by Islamic extremism stemming from two wars in which Chechnya sought to break away from Moscow. They lived near Boston and had been in the U.S. for about a decade, an uncle said.
“My son Tamerlan really got involved in religious politics, only five years ago,” said their mother Zubeidat Tsarnaeva in an interview with Reuters. “My son would never do this. It is a set-up.”