Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Marathon bombing suspect, charged in federal court with using a weapon of mass destruction

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged today with using a weapon of mass destruction in the April 15 attacks that ripped through a crowd at the finish line of the world-renowned race, killing three people and injuring scores of others

Tsarnaev’s initial court appearance was conducted today by a federal magistrate judge in his hospital room. Tsarnaev was able to respond to inquiries, nodding yes and at one point saying, “No,” according to a transcript of the hearing. A person familiar with the proceeding said Tsarnaev had mouthed the word.

Tsarnaev also faces a charge of malicious destruction of property resulting in death. The charges carry the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison for the 19-year-old Cambridge man, who is listed in serious condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center after suffering multiple gunshot wounds before his capture by police on Friday.

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The federal public defender’s office has been assigned to the case. Miriam Conrad, the chief public defender, had no comment.

The charges came a week to the day after two powerful bombs exploded at the Marathon finish line, killing three people, injuring more than 170, and leaving a region on edge. With Tsarnaev in custody and a second suspect, Tsarnaev’s brother Tamerlan, dead after a confrontation with police early Friday morning, authorities now say the danger appears to be over.

“Although our investigation is ongoing, today’s charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston and for our country,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “We’ve once again shown that those who target innocent Americans and attempt to terrorize our cities will not escape from justice. We will hold those who are responsible for these heinous acts accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Tsarnaev waived his right to a detention hearing. His next hearing will be May 30, court officials said.

An affidavit filed in support of the charges by FBI Special Agent Daniel R. Genck provided startling details and a window into the evidence that law enforcement has collected connecting Tsarnaev to the deadly bombs.

The affidavit said, among other things, that, based on reviews of surveillance video, and photos and videos provided by the public, Tsarnaev stood for four minutes next to a bomb that he had placed on the ground in front of the Forum Restaurant on Boylston Street.

He had a cellphone in his hand and appeared to take a photograph of the bomb on the sidewalk before he walked away, the affidavit said.

About 30 seconds before the first explosion hit just down the street 120 yards away, near the Marathon’s finish line, “he lifts his phone to his ear as if he is speaking on his cellphone, and keeps it there for approximately 18 seconds. A few seconds after he finishes the call, the large crowd of people around him can be seen reacting to the first explosion,’’ Genck wrote.

“Virtually every head turns to the east (toward the finish line) and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm. Bomber Two, virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm. He glances to the east and then calmly but rapidly begins moving west, away from the direction of the finish line,” said the affidavit.

The affidavit referred to Tsarnaev as “Bomber Two” a slight variation from what officials had called him previously, “Suspect Two.”

Genck added: “He walks away without his knapsack, having left it on the ground where he had been standing. Approximately, 10 second later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber Two had placed his knapsack.’’

The affidavits also revealed that the FBI searched Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Sunday and found “a large pyrotechnic, a black jacket and white hat of the same general appearance as those worn by Bomber Two at the Boston Marathon.’’

When he was captured in Watertown Friday night, Tsarnaev had his UMass-Dartmouth student ID card on him along with credit cards and other forms of IDs, the affidavit said.

The sworn statement by the agent also said that Tsarnaev had been shot multiple times when he was captured.

“He had visible injuries including apparent gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs and hand,” Genck wrote.

The new developments came after the White House said that Tsarnaev would be tried in the federal court system.

Speaking at a media briefing in Washington, spokesman Jay Carney said Tsarnaev would not be tried as an enemy combatant.

“We will process this terrorist through our system of justice,” he said this morning.

Pointing to other terrorists who have been tried and convicted in federal court, he said, “The system has repeatedly proven that it can successfully handle the threat that we continue to face.”

He also said that US citizens cannot be tried before military commissions. Tsarnaev is a naturalized US citizen. He was sworn in as a citizen in September.

The hunt for the two Tsarnaevs ended Friday but not before they had killed one police officer and wounded another grievously.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fled from the Watertown gun battle early Friday where his brother was fatally wounded. He eluded a daylong manhunt, but was spotted by a vigilant resident and captured Friday evening after a standoff with police in a Watertown backyard.

Russian authorities warned the FBI in early 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been a follower of “radical Islam,” but the agency has said it investigated and “did not find any terrorism activity.”

Carney defended the FBI today, citing the FBI’s statement and saying “they investigated it thoroughly and did not find terror activity, domestic or foreign.”

But he also noted that President Obama has “called for answers to a number of questions” about the case.

The Tsarnaev brothers killed MIT Police Officer Sean Collier and wounded MBTA Transit Police Officer Richard Donohue Jr., authorities say.

Donohue is breathing on his own now after a breathing tube was removed, and he called for his wife today, a law enforcement source said.