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Officials are trying to learn how two siblings who immigrated to America might have become terrorists.
One was a boxer who liked Russian rap videos and once said, “I don’t have a single American friend.”
The other, an all-star high school wrestler, listed “Islam” as his worldview on a Russian social media page and was described by a neighbor as a “very photogenic kid” who had “a heart of gold.”
As a picture has begun to emerge of the two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who are suspected of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon, it is difficult to distinguish them from the millions of young people who come to the United States to forge a future. The authorities are scrambling to determine how they might have evolved into terrorists who would plant powerful bombs in a crowd of innocent people.
The Tsarnaevs are believed to be of Chechen heritage and to have emigrated from Kyrgyzstan or another country in the region with their family to the United States in 2002 after living for some time in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan in Russia. A government official confirmed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became a naturalized American citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev had a green card.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (pronounced Joe-HARR tsar-NAH-yev) graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2011, where he was listed as a Greater Boston League Winter All-Star wrestler. That year, he won a $2,500 scholarship awarded to 35 to 45 promising students by the City of Cambridge.
Dzhokhar might have done well academically in high school, but according to a university transcript reviewed by The New York Times, he was failing many of his college classes. The transcript shows him receiving seven failing grades over two semesters in 2012 and 2013, including F’s in Principles of Modern Chemistry, Intro American Politics, and Chemistry and the Environment. According to the transcript, Dzhokhar received a B in Critical Writing and a D and D-plus in two other courses.
San, 22, a former classmate at the university who would identify himself only by his first name, said that Dzhokhar had told him that he was struggling in some courses.
“He was talking about how he wasn’t doing as good as he expected,” San said. “He was a really smart kid, but having a little difficulty in college because going from high school to college is totally different.”
San said that he would be willing to testify on Dzhokhar’s behalf, if it came to that.
“I feel like all of his friends would do that,” San said.
In high school, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was known to participate with a handful of other students in Muslim prayers during the school day. In his junior year, he was part of a group of 10 or so students who would hold a midday prayer service in an empty classroom on Fridays that would last roughly a quarter of an hour.
Mahmoud Abu-Rubieh, 17, a student at the high school, said he had known Dzhokhar for almost three years as a friend and a wrestling teammate. Dzhokhar, he said, dressed “like any other student at our school,” favoring jeans or khakis, button-ups and T-shirts.
“I never heard him talk about politics,” Mr. Abu-Rubieh said. “He didn’t really bring up anything like that.” He said the last time he saw Dzhokhar was about three months ago, when he stopped by wrestling practice.
“We exchanged a greeting,” Mr. Abu-Rubieh said. “He said it was nice to see that I continued to wrestle. If I wanted to convey any message it would be that he was a kind student, that many people respected him, he had many friends and was active in our school.”
Ashraful Rahman, 17, a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, said that he and two other friends recognized Dzhokhar’s photo on television on Thursday night and one of them called the F.B.I. tip line.
He said he could not believe that Dzhokhar, whom he met two years ago, could have been involved in the bombing.
“He would never come across as someone who would do anything like this,” Mr. Rahman said.
He and Dzhokhar have much in common, he said. Both were wrestlers, both enjoyed boxing and both were Muslim. They would occasionally meet at the mosque in Cambridge a few blocks from their school, he said.
Dzhokhar’s closest friends were a group known among their classmates as “stoners,” Mr. Rahman said. He described Dzhokhar as “laid back” and had assumed that he was born in the United States because he did not speak with an accent.
Mr. Rahman said he last saw Dzhokhar in August, near the end of Ramadan, during prayers at the mosque.
“Regardless of whether you knew him as well as I did, as someone who wrestled with him, hung out and chilled with him or whether you were people who saw him the hallway, he was always the same — a generally nice guy,” Mr. Rahman said, adding that Dzhokar was a hard-working student and an even harder-working wrestler.
When he was not wrestling, Mr. Rahman said, Dzhokhar “was not some testosterone-ridden jock or anything like that, just a cool guy.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev (pronounced tam-arr-lann tsar-NAH-yev), who died after a shootout with law enforcement officers early on Friday morning, was said to be studying engineering at Bunker Hill Community College four or five years ago when a photographer, Johannes Hirn, chose a young boxer as the subject of an essay for a Boston University photojournalism class.
In the essay, the subject, who is believed to have been Tamerlan, is quoted as saying that he had become devoutly religious, having abandoned smoking and drinking. He sounded alienated from Russia, saying that he would not want to box on the Russian team unless Chechnya achieved independence. The essay was later published in a university magazine, The Comment, according to Peter Southwick, director of the photojournalism program, who taught the class.
“There are no values anymore,” Mr. Hirn quotes him as saying. “People can’t control themselves.”
In the essay, Tamerlan confessed a love for the movie “Borat” and showed off his pointed shoes — “I"m dressed European-style,” Mr. Hirn quoted him as saying.
In the caption of one photo, showing his muscled upper body, he said that he did not usually take his shirt off in front of women. “I’m very religious,” he says.
The brothers lived on the third floor of a caramel-colored wood-frame triple-decker on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, a multicultural neighborhood not far from Inman Square, a pleasant shopping area, where hardware stores and butcher shops are side by side with cafes and Brazilian and Portuguese restaurants. Neighbors said people were constantly coming and going at the apartment, and they were uncertain who lived there and who was just visiting. Sometimes they saw people from the apartment gathering on the front lawn. A man they believed to be Tamerlan, they said, was fond of doing pull-ups on the trellis out front.
Matt Stuber, who lives in a building next door, said he occasionally saw Dzhokhar driving a green Honda Civic. Other neighbors described him as “quiet” and said he sometimes did not return greetings on the street.
He did become friendly with Larry Aaronson, a retired social studies teacher who lived a few houses from the Tsarnaev family on Norfolk Street.
Mr. Aaronson said he often saw Dzhokhar around the neighborhood but had not seen him recently. He believed that Dzhokhar might have gone off to college.
“He was gracious,” he said of the younger Tsarnaev brother. “He told me he was from Chechnya, and I asked him what that was like, and he never expressed any bitterness toward Russia or his situation.”
He added, “This comes as a total shock.”
Both young men had a substantial presence on social media. On Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social media platform, Dzhokhar describes his worldview as “Islam” and, asked to identify “the main thing in life,” answers “career and money.” He lists a series of affinity groups relating to Chechnya, where two wars of independence against Russia were fought after the Soviet Union collapsed, and lists a verse from the Koran, “Do good, because Allah loves those who do good.”
In a telephone interview, Ruslan Tsarni, 42, one of the brothers’ three uncles, said that on the night before he was killed, Tamerlan had called Mr. Tsarni’s older brother. “He said to my brother the usual rubbish, talking about God again, that whatever wrong he had done on his behalf, he would like to be forgiven,” said Mr. Tsarni, who lives in Montgomery Village, Md., outside of Washington. “I guess he knew what he had done.”
He added: “The boys call themselves Muslims, but they are not. These are bastards, monsters and hypocrites falsely using the name of God. They never followed a good code of behavior or morals to be Muslims.”
Mr. Tsarni said that his middle brother, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar’s father, had moved back to Dagestan about a year ago with his wife.
Tamerlan, he said, seemed to control his younger brother. “He could manipulate him,” Mr. Tsarni said.
Mr. Tsarni said in the interview that the two brothers had struggled to make a meaningul and responsible life for themselvs in the United States.
“They are losers who could not find their place,” he said. “They did not study and work the way they should have and they had hate for people around them.”
He further stated, “They never followed a good code of behavior or morals.”
Mr. Tsarni said that he lost contact with the older brother in 2009 or 2010, and the younger one in 2006.
He contended that his brother worked hard to give his sons a good life and that they were corrupted into carrying out an “incomprehensible” act of violence by someone outside of the family.
“Someone was manipulating and using them,” Mr. Tsarni said of his nephews. “If they said they came up with this idea on their own, I would never believe it.
The family is part of a Chechen diaspora that dates back to 1943, when Stalin ordered that most of Chechnya’s population be moved to Central Asia over concerns that the Chechens were collaborating with the invading Nazi Army. Most Chechens returned in the 1950s, after the death of Stalin and the lifting of his order, but some did not. The Chechens who remain in Kyrgyzstan are concentrated in a steppe region on the Kazakh border, near the town of Talas.
The move was a searing, and in some cases, radicalizing experience. Among those sent to Kyrgyzstan was the first rebel president of Chechnya in the post-Soviet period, Dzhokhar Dudayev,, said Edil Baisalov, a former presidential chief of staff in Kyrgyzstan.