In the new issue of Rolling Stone, contributing editor Janet Reitman delivers a deeply reported account of the life and times of Boston bomber Jahar Tsarnaev. Reitman spent the last two months interviewing dozens of sources – childhood and high school friends, teachers, neighbors and law enforcement agents, many of whom spoke for the first time about the case – to deliver a riveting and heartbreaking account of how a charming kid with a bright future became a monster. Here are five revelations about Tsarnaev from our latest cover story, “Jahar’s World”:
• As Jahar lay in the boat, surrounded by SWAT teams and police, FBI negotiators mentioned a public plea for his surrender from his former wrestling coach. An agent on the scene later told the coach that it could have been this name from the past – and the memory of that past – both of which were invoked during the standoff, that convinced Jahar to ultimately give up.
• Around 2008, Jahar’s older brother Tamerlan confided to his mother that he felt like “two people” were inside him. She confided this to a close friend who felt he might need a psychiatrist, but Zubeidat believed that religion would be the cure for her son’s inner demons and growing mental instability, and pushed him deeper into Islam.
• Jahar’s high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin, is famously diverse, but Jahar played down the fact that he was a Muslim. As his brother and mother became more religious, he did, however, attend a small Friday prayer group that met at lunchtime, and once got quite upset when a friend who’d converted to Islam talked about it in a casual way. “Islam wasn’t casual to Jahar,” says one friend. “He took his religion seriously.”
• Jahar shared few details of his troubled home life with even his closest friends. In the months leading up to the bombing, his family had disintegrated. His parents were both living in Russia. His two older sisters were estranged. Only Tamerlan, who was becoming increasingly devout and judgmental of all non-Muslims, was still in Boston. When one of Jahar’s friends asked to meet Tamerlan, Jahar said, “No, you don’t want to meet him.”
• Jahar never spoke about 9/11. Once, though, he let slip to a high school friend that he thought the terrorist attacks could be justified, and pointed to US policies towards Muslim countries and US drone strikes and other attacks as his rationale.