Jahar's World

Page 5 of 5

On the afternoon of April 18th, Robel Phillipos, a friend of Jahar's from Cambridge as well as from UMass Dartmouth, was watching the news on campus and talking on the phone with Dias. He told Dias, who was in his car, to turn on the TV when he got home. One of the bombers, he said, looked like Jahar. Like most of their friends, Dias thought it was a coincidence and texted Jahar that he looked like one of the suspects on television. "Lol," Jahar wrote back, casually. He told his friend not to text him anymore. "I'm about to leave," he wrote. "If you need something in my room, take it."

According to the FBI, Robel, Dias and their friend Azamat met at Pine Dale Hall, Jahar's dorm, where his roommate informed them that he'd left campus several hours earlier. So they hung out in his room for a while, watching a movie. Then they spotted Jahar's backpack, which the boys noticed had some fireworks inside, emptied of powder. Not sure what to do, they grabbed the bag as well as Jahar's computer, and went back to Dias and Azamat's off-campus apartment, where they "started to freak out, because it became clear from a CNN report . . . that Jahar was one of the Boston Marathon bombers," Robel later told the FBI.

But no one wanted Jahar to get in trouble. Dias and Azamat began speaking to each other in Russian. Finally, Dias turned to Robel and asked in English if he should get rid of the stuff. "Do what you have to do," Robel said. Then he took a nap.

Dias later confessed that he'd grabbed a big black trash bag, filled it with trash and stuffed the backpack and fireworks in there. Then he threw it in a dumpster; the bag was later retrieved from the municipal dump by the FBI. The computer, too, was eventually recovered. Until recently, its contents were unknown.

The contents of Jahar's closely guarded psyche, meanwhile, may never be fully understood. Nor, most likely, will his motivations – which is quite common with accused terrorists. "There is no single precipitating event or stressor," says Neer. "Instead, what you see with most of these people is a gradual process of feeling alienated or listless or not connected. But what they all have in common is a whole constellation of things that aren't working right."

A month or so after the bombing, I am sitting on Alyssa's back deck with a group of Jahar's friends. It's a lazy Sunday in May, and the media onslaught has died down a bit; the FBI, though, is still searching for the source of the brothers' "radicalization," and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, capitalizing on the situation, has put Tamerlan, dressed in his crisp, white Saturday Night Fever shirt and aviator shades, in the pages of its most recent Inspire. Jahar has a growing and surprisingly brazen fan club – #FreeJahar – and tens of thousands of new Twitter followers, despite the fact that he hasn't tweeted since before his arrest.

Like so many of his fans, some of Jahar's friends have latched onto conspiracy theories about the bombing, if only because "there are too many unanswered questions," says Cara, who points out that the backpack identified by the FBI was not the same color as Jahar's backpack. There's also a photo on the Internet of Jahar walking away from the scene, no pack, though if you look closely, you can see the outline of a black strap. "Photoshopped!" the caption reads.

Mostly, though, his friends are trying to move on. "We're concerned with not having this tied to us for the rest of our lives," says Alyssa, explaining why she and Sam and Jackson and Cara and Will and James and Theo have insisted I give them pseudonyms. Even as Jahar was on the run, his friends started hearing from the FBI, whose agents shortly descended upon their campuses – sometimes wearing bulletproof vests – looking for insight and phone numbers.

"You're so intimidated, and you think if you don't answer their questions, it looks suspicious," says Jackson, who admits he gave up a number of friends' phone numbers after being pressed by the FBI.

Sam says he thinks the feds tapped his phone. All of the kids were interviewed alone, without a lawyer. "I didn't even know I could have a lawyer," says Jackson. "And they didn't tell me that anything I said might be used against me, which was unfair, because, I mean, I'm only 19."

But the worst, they all agree, is Robel, who was interviewed four times by the FBI, and denied he knew anything until, on the fourth interview, he came clean and told them he'd helped remove the backpack and computer from Jahar's dorm room. Robel is 19 but looks 12, and is unanimously viewed by his friends as the most innocent and sheltered of the group. He is now facing an eight-year prison sentence for lying to a federal officer.

"So you see why we don't want our names associated," says Sam. "It's not that we're trying to show that we're not Jahar's friends. He was a very good friend of mine."

Jahar is, of course, still alive – though it's tempting for everyone to refer to him in the past tense, as if he, too, were dead. He will likely go to prison for the rest of his life, which may be his best possible fate, given the other option, which is the death penalty. "I can't wrap my head around that," says Cara. "Or any of it."

Nor can anyone else. For all of their city's collective angst and community processing and resolutions of being "one Cambridge," the reality is that none of Jahar's friends had any idea he was unhappy, and they really didn't know he had any issues in his family other than, perhaps, his parents' divorce, which was kind of normal.

"I remember he was upset when his dad left the country," says Jackson. "I remember he was giving me a ride home and he mentioned it."

"Now that I think about that, it must have added a lot of pressure having both parents be gone," says Sam.

"But, I mean, that's the mystery," says Jackson. "I don't really know." It's weird, they all agree.

"His brother must have brainwashed him," says Sam. "It's the only explanation."

Someone mentions one of the surveillance videos of Jahar, which shows him impassively watching as people begin to run in response to the blast. "I mean, that's just the face I'd always see chilling, talking, smoking," says Jackson. He wishes­ Jahar had looked panicked. "At least then I'd be able to say, 'OK, something happened.' But . . . nothing."

That day's Boston Globe has run a story about the nurses at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital who took care of Jahar those first few days after his capture. They were ambivalent, to say the least, about spending too much time with him, for fear of, well, liking him. One nurse said she had to stop herself from calling him "hon." The friends find this story disgusting. "People just have blood in their eyes," says Jackson.

One anecdote that wasn't in the article but that has been quietly making its way around town, via one of his former nurses, is that Jahar cried for two days straight after he woke up in the hospital. No one in the group has heard this yet, and when I mention it, Alyssa gives an anguished sigh of relief. "That's good to know," she says.

"I can definitely see him doing that," says Sam, gratefully. "I hope he's crying. I'd definitely hope . . ."

"I hope he'd wake up and go, 'What the fuck did I do the last 48 hours?' " says Jackson, who decides, along with the others, that this, the crying detail, sounds like Jahar.

But, then again, no one knows what he was crying about.

This story is from the August 1st, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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