A federal grand jury today handed up a sweeping indictment of Boston Marathon bombings suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, charging him with using weapons of mass destruction and killing four people.
The 30-count indictment alleges that Tsarnaev had been inspired by Al Qaeda publications and left a confession in the boat where he was captured in a Watertown back yard.
In it, he said, “I don’t like killing innocent people” and noted that “it is forbidden” in Islam to do so, but he justified his actions as a response to US military action in Muslim countries, according to the indictment.
“The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians. .... I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished. ... We Muslims are one body, you hurt one, you hurt us all,” Tsarnaev allegedly wrote. “Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”
Seventeen of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty. The others carry a maximum of life in prison, prosecutors said in a statement.
The twin blasts killed three people and injured more than 260 near the Marathon finish line on April 15. Authorities have said Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, planted the explosives. They have also said the Tsarnaevs killed MIT police officer Sean Collier.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed after a shootout with police on April 19 in Watertown. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested after he was found hiding in the boat later that day.
The indictment alleges that sometime before the bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, downloaded different pieces of extremist Islamic propaganda from the Internet, including one that directed Muslims not to give their allegiances to governments that invade Muslim lands and another by Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki is the American citizen who became a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and was killed in a 2011 drone strike.
At a press conference at US District Court in Boston this afternoon, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz summarized the charges against Tsarnaev, and then added that she has met with relatives of those slain and those who were wounded during the terror attack.
“Their strength is extraordinary, and we will do everything that we can to pursue justice not only on their behalf, but on behalf of all us,’’ she said.
Ortiz said it would be up to US Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether to seek the death penalty. “There are a number of different levels of review,” she said, adding her office would seek input from victims’ families before making a recommendation to the attorney general about the death penalty. “It is a confidential process. Once he makes a decision, we’ll announce it.”
Also attending the press conference were officials from the Middlesex and Suffolk district attorney’s office, and the leaders of the Boston and Massachusetts State Police and the Boston office of the FBI.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said he expects the judicial system “will hold this man accountable for the terrible things he has done, and hope that nothing like this ever happens again.”
“This case is about our community; it’s about an assault on our people,” Davis said.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who was watching the marathon that day and left a few minutes before the bombs detonated, said the case would be best prosecuted in federal court and indictments in Suffolk County would be redundant.
“In the absence of some major change in the current posture of this case, state-level indictments for crimes in Boston would only drag out the process that would already be grueling for victims, their families, and the city,” he said. “Given the facts, the circumstances, and the many federal statutes available, the most appropriate place to prosecute Dzhokhar Tsarneav is right here in federal court.”
The federal charges include use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death; bombing of a place of public use resulting in death, malicious destruction of property resulting in death, and conspiring to commit those crimes. The charges also include use of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime and carjacking resulting in serious injury, federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Tsarnaev learned how to make the pressure cooker bombs used in the bombings from Volume 1 of an online magazine called “Inspire,” an English-language publication of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the indictment alleged. He also downloaded a book called, “Jihad and the Effects of Intention Upon It.’’
The indictment said the book “glorifies martyrdom in the service of violent Jihad.’’
The indictment alleged that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, purchased 48 mortars in early February from Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook, N.H., containing approximately eight pounds of explosive powder.
The two brothers allegedly went to Manchester, N.H., on March 20, where they rented two 9mm handguns and fired off some 200 rounds at a range.
On April 5, Talmerlan Tsarnaev bought electronic components on the Internet to make explosive devices, according to the indictment. They were sent to his home in Cambridge. The day before the Marathon, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev opened a prepaid cell phone account under the name “Jahar Tsarni,” which he used to call his brother less than a minute before the first bomb exploded, according to the indictment.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev placed one backpack bomb in front of Marathon Sports at 671 Boylston St., while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placed the other backpack bomb in front of the Forum restaurant at 755 Boylston St., the indictment alleged.
The indictment alleges that after their pictures had been released to the public by law enforcement on April 18, the Tsarnaevs, armed with five improvised explosive devices, a Ruger P95 semi-automatic pistol, ammunition, a machete, and a hunting knife, killed MIT officer Collier and attempted to steal his service weapon.
After shooting Collier, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother carjacked a Mercedes, kidnapped the driver, and forced him to drive to a gas station, robbing him of $800 along the way, according to the indictment.
After the driver managed to escape, the brothers drove to Watertown, where they confronted police early on the morning of April 19, using four of the five IEDs against them. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was tackled by three Watertown police, who struggled with him as they tried to handcuff him. Dzhokhar drove his car at the three officers, running over his brother, “seriously injuring and contributing to his death,” the indictment alleged.
The Middlesex district attorney’s office is also filing similar charges in its own indictment.
The bombings had raised questions about what motivated the brothers and whether US officials could have stopped them before they struck. At the press conference, Ortiz declined to comment on their motive or whether the note Dzokhar Tsarnaev left in the boat constituted a confession.
Neither she nor others would comment on Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s condition or whether he is cooperating with authorities.
Kenneth J. Croke, the acting special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, noted that Thursday marked 74 days since the bombings.
“Since that time, the city of Boston has begun to heal,” he said. “Today is an important day in that healing process.”John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.