Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Inside the Mind of a Killer

On the night of the Boston Marathon attacks, Tamerlan Tsarnaev watched his handiwork on television—and laughed.

boston marathon bombings

PHOTO BY REGINA MOGILEVSKAYA

It was the evening of April 15, 2013, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a happy man. At a messy, third-floor apartment on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, the 26-year-old was in his living room alongside his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, watching the news on TV. Nearly every channel was running nonstop coverage of the chaos and carnage on Boylston Street: the smoke, the screaming, the severed limbs scattered in the street. Blood was everywhere. In the apartment, a laptop streaming CNN also played the endless chaos and heroic rescue efforts. Spectators used their belts, shirts, and shoelaces as tourniquets to tie off the mangled limbs of strangers; doctors who ran the marathon sprinted to operating rooms; former New England Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi carried an injured woman to safety.

Then came a knock at the door.

“Open!” Tamerlan shouted.

In walked Khairullozhon Matanov. Tamerlan had been expecting him.

Matanov, a 23-year-old cab driver from Quincy, was a fellow Russian-speaking immigrant with a scrawny frame and floppy black hair. The two had met years earlier at a mosque on Prospect Street in Cambridge, part of the Islamic Society of Boston, and became friends. They attended Friday prayers together and went to the mosque on holidays such as Id al-Fitr, the highest of Muslim holy days. Tamerlan, a New England Golden Gloves champion, gave Matanov boxing lessons, and they played weekly pickup soccer games together in Cohasset. Matanov had even met the Tsarnaev family matriarch, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who cooked chicken and salad for him at their home. One time, the two friends climbed Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, where Tamerlan talked about the mujahedeen.

All of these details—and many more—are contained in FBI proffer reports obtained exclusively by Boston magazine. The proffer reports are an FBI agent’s written account of multiple interviews with Matanov, whom the feds have charged with obstruction of justice in connection with the Boston Marathon investigation. Agents first interviewed Matanov in May 2013 and arrested him 12 months later. According to one of the reports, Matanov and Tamerlan “did not have secrets.”

On the night of the bombings, Matanov allegedly told the FBI, he was rattled. But he repeatedly insisted that he had no idea the Tsarnaev brothers were behind the bombings. It was mere coincidence, he claimed, that at 3:31 p.m., some 40 minutes after the explosions, Matanov called Tamerlan, who said he was in a store buying milk. “During this conversation they discussed the bombings in Boston,’’ the FBI report states. “Matanov suggested that maybe something blew up in a kitchen near the finish line, to which Tamerlan responded: ‘Maybe, maybe not.’’’ The two made plans for dinner.

It was sundown by the time Matanov walked into the Norfolk Street apartment. The Tamerlan that greeted him that day looked more like the old Tam. Gone was the beard he’d grown after returning from a six-month trip to Russia in July 2012. Instead, his face was freshly shaved. Wearing sweatpants and boxing shoes, he more closely resembled the handsome party boy who once frequented Boston nightclubs and smoked pot with his friends. Neither Tamerlan’s wife, Karima, née Katherine Russell, nor their toddler daughter, Zahara, were home.

After greeting the brothers, the FBI report says, Matanov commented that the bombings were very bad and voiced his concerns that the public might direct its outrage at Muslims. He plopped down on the couch next to Dzhokhar, who was stroking the family cat. Matanov also expressed sympathy for eight-year-old Martin Richard, who died in the second blast. According to the report, “Tamerlan responded by asking whether Matanov thought the U.S. drones that dropped bombs in Pakistan and Afghanistan did not kill any children.”

“So what if a kid dies,” Tamerlan said. “God will take care of him.”

As Tamerlan watched the coverage on TV, he smiled. There was one image that every newscast replayed over and over again: 78-year-old marathoner Bill Iffrig being hurled to the ground after the first bomb exploded, his bright-orange tank top juxtaposed against the gray billowing smoke behind him. He lay prone on the ground, stunned, just yards away from the finish line. Half a dozen Boston Police officers sprang toward Iffrig and stood around him in a protective huddle as chaos erupted behind them. A blue-and-yellow-clad volunteer helped him to his feet.

There was something about that old man on the ground…Tamerlan loved it. When he saw the shot of Iffrig falling as the smoke rose in the background, Tamerlan laughed. Matanov told the FBI that “Tamerlan expressed glee over the bombings and called them the biggest thing since 9/11…. Specifically, Tamerlan laughed at images of an old man running from the blast.”

The image of Iffrig crumpled on the ground became emblematic of the pandemonium and bloodshed near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A child was dead, along with two young women. In all, the bombs injured more than 260 people; 16 of them lost one or more limbs. And at that time no one knew why.

Except for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Inside the apartment, Tamerlan disappeared into his brother’s room, and Matanov tried to engage Dzhokhar in conversation about what had happened. Matanov said that the bombings were going to be a big problem for Muslims because innocent people were killed. For the first time that night, according to the FBI report of Matanov’s account, Dzhokhar responded; he said that for some people the bombings were a good thing, for others they were a bad thing.

Dzhokhar was always a quiet kid, Matanov told the FBI, but that night his demeanor was particularly aloof. Maybe he was concentrating on the tweet he transmitted from his account @J_Tsar at 5:04 p.m. that day: “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city. stay safe people.” Dzhokhar also marked another tweet, from an account called “Death,” at @GMCoderGoddi. It read, “The ultimate sacrifice is within you, The battle within is defined by the word jihad.”

When they were finally ready for dinner, Matanov told the FBI, he and the Tsarnaev brothers climbed into his cab and went for kebabs at a storefront eatery in Somerville called Man-O-Salwas, a little less than a mile away.

 

The FBI first interviewed Matanov on May 31, 2013, nine days after his former roommate Ibragim Todashev was shot dead by an FBI agent in an Orlando apartment. Agents were interviewing Todashev, 27, regarding his role in an unsolved triple homicide in Waltham, and Todashev had, according to Florida authorities, begun to write a confession. The victims were three young men found with their throats slashed, their heads nearly decapitated and marijuana sprinkled over their mutilated bodies—a grisly bloodbath that fell on September 11, 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. At least one of the victims, Brendan Mess, knew Tamerlan, who was also a suspect. The motive, Todashev had begun to explain, was robbery.

“I wanna [sic] tell the story about the robbery me and Tam did in Waltham,’’ Todashev wrote on a legal pad. But before he could finish the confession, according to a Florida state attorney’s report, Todashev, who had a long history of criminal violence, flipped over a table and lunged at a Massachusetts state trooper with a metal pole. Aaron McFarlane, an FBI agent assigned to the Boston field office, shot Todashev seven times. The FBI later cleared McFarlane of any wrongdoing.

The horrendous unsolved murders in Waltham have been used by Dzhokhar’s defense team—in conjunction with Todashev’s unfinished confession—to argue that the older Tsarnaev brother was a menacing, dangerous man who acted as a “corrupting influence” on their client. In a court motion filed last fall, Dzhokhar’s defense attorneys referred to an “identified witness [who] would be prepared to testify” for prosecutors that their client was well aware that his big brother had committed the Waltham atrocities—and that Dzhokhar was afraid of him.

In January, Dzhokhar is expected to go on trial in federal court, charged with using and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that prosecutors will seek the death penalty. But whether Dzhokhar lives or dies may hinge on his defense attorneys’ ability to convince a jury that the younger Tsarnaev was, in some way, under the sway of his older brother.

Of course, dead men tell no tales. Todashev couldn’t finish his confession from the morgue—and Tamerlan was pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m. on April 19, 2013, after a wild firefight with police in Watertown.

In response to Dzhokhar’s defense team, the government denies that their alleged “identified witness” exists, saying only that there is a third party who claimed that someone might say Dzhokkar was aware of Tamerlan’s involvement in the Waltham murders. The government recently claimed it has no evidence linking Tamerlan to the Waltham murders, so there is nothing to produce in court—a stance that contradicts many earlier statements tying Tamerlan and Todashev to the crimes. In fact, the same FBI interviews of Matanov that detail the brothers’ reactions to watching TV news coverage of the bombings on April 15 also refer to questions Matanov was asked concerning the Waltham murders and the movements of his roommate, Todashev.

Matanov told conflicting stories at first, but eventually confirmed that Todashev was at their shared home on September 11, 2011, the night of the murders. He told agents that he came home from driving his cab to find his roommate in the shower. Hours later, Todashev packed up his belongings, save for a pair of boxing gloves, and drove with another Russian-speaking immigrant to Florida.

After initially interviewing Matanov in May 2013, agents have testified, the FBI followed Matanov sporadically for a year—during which time, according to the Patriot Ledger, investigators deployed a noisy, low-flying plane to track him. They arrested him on May 30.

Despite Matanov’s claims that he expressed sympathy for the child who died in the bombings, the federal indictment paints him as far more cold-hearted. It claims that after Matanov had dinner with the Tsarnaevs on April 15, he returned to his Quincy apartment and told his roommate—who is now a government witness—that the bombings were justified if they were “done in the name of Islam.”

In the days following their dinner together, Matanov stayed in cell-phone contact with Tamerlan and even made one more visit to Tamerlan’s apartment in Cambridge during the week leading up to the Watertown shootout. Matanov also tried six times—in vain—to call Dzhokhar. His last attempt was made at 7:17 a.m. on April 19, when, according to the indictment, the suspect “was still evading law enforcement.’’

After Dzhokhar’s capture, Matanov desperately tried to erase the memory on his own computer, according to the indictment, and deleted photos that showed him alongside Todashev and the Tsarnaev brothers during happier times: going to the beach in Quincy, celebrating Id al-Fitr at the mosque. In one of the pictures, Matanov posed alongside Tamerlan in front of a black flag imprinted with a sword and the shahada phrase—often described as “the black flag of jihad”—taken, according to one of the FBI reports, at a Massachusetts mosque.

Federal prosecutors accuse Matanov of deleting files from his computer and of lying to investigators about his interactions with the Tsarnaev brothers in the days after the bombings. Today, Matanov is being held without bail at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility—in notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s old cell. Federal prosecutors have argued that Matanov is a flight risk: a man who speaks seven languages, has no family here, has changed jobs and residences several times, and has made multiple money transfers to parties overseas using various aliases.

Matanov’s attorneys, Edward Hayden and Paul Glickman, insist that their client is innocent of any crimes, including any involvement in the Waltham murders, pointing out that he has voluntarily cooperated with investigators. “It’s not a federal crime to be friends with someone,” Hayden says.

On April 19, hours before Dzhokhar was captured, Matanov gave a voluntary interview to the Braintree police. When asked how he met the brothers and what he thought about them, Matanov said what any neighbor or casual acquaintance might say: “They were like so, so nice people.”

  • Agatha

    Oh my Michele, its almost a miracle how you were able to read the mind of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Oh wait, you said you got this from the exclusive FBI report. So they read Tamerlan’s mind? Or was it Matanov that was able know exactly what Tamerlan was thinking and was able to recall every detail, of what he was thinking? And it sure is strange how YOU continue to get these exclusive stories, that include information that should be kept from the public until the trial starts. Why can’t you just report without tainting the story and let the people make up their own minds?

    • jane24

      Also noticed the “mind reading.” I’d be more inclined to call it very bad fiction! Shame on Boston Magazine for running an article of such very poor quality. Would be nice to see some real journalism instead of the vivid ramblings of an overactive imagination. This is so bad it’s almost laughable.

      • Ralph Hornsby

        Saw on twitter.

        Tweeter 1: What did you think of the MCPHEE piece?

        Tweeter 2: Not much really. More muckraking over stuff that’s already out there, dressed up as “new” w/ addition of latest FBI leak.

        • jane24

          Pretty much sums it up! Even those who swallow the “official narrative” as regards the BMB don’t seem to be giving this article positive reviews, in fact, quite the opposite. Telling I think.

  • LIZ MADDEN

    The court doc the defense submitted yesterday should take care of any more leaks the FBI are giving you. Your reputation has come into question by many on what services you are giving them to obtain such information.

    • Media_Integrity

      Most of Michele’s reporting on the Boston bombing has been biased and the way the FBI drops all this info in her lap makes everyone question the FBI and their corruptness.

    • Ralph Hornsby

      I think the word is called “boinking”

      • stinker-winker

        Ralph!

    • Patriarch

      She is being paid…well.

  • public_servant_watch

    If Michelle was truly an investigative reporter she would be aware that these are simulated criminal proceedings. She would expose the US goverment’s psychopathic production where video and photo fraud created the event and the illusion of injuries. She would be reporting how A Step Ahead has people working for it that do not use their legal names and have used photo and video fraud to give the illusion of amputations and prosthetics.

    She would know that Bill Richard, his phony wife and ficticious children do not exist; she would report how Anthony Curci who lives in Maryland is the actor playing Bill and that his teenage daughter was the image of Jane via age regression.

    If an investigative reporter one would ask how did Gianna’s photo from a past Christmas end up in a phony Richard family photo and why does Gianna’s father look JUST LIKE Bill Richard. One might go further and ask how is it that Larry Marchese who is the Richard family representative looks just like bill Richard’s father.

    Michelle would be performing the duty of a free press and she would be protecting the public by reminding TPTB that fraud vitiates all. She would be addressing how the US Government and now the courts are defrauding the public. Apparently she is not an investigative reporter and prefers writing fiction.

  • Media_Integrity

    The FBI’s willingness and urgency to give Ms. McPhee ANY info regarding the Tsarnaev case is seen by the public as corrupt and shady.
    The defense naming her in court documents as being responsible for leaks. Now she named her source in this article. The FBI.

    The flacid emasculated judge O’Toole who
    won’t dare do anything to stop the leaks because he is intimidated by
    Carmen Ortiz. I wonder what dirt Carmen has on him.

    McPhee never mentions in this article how the guards have been beating Matanov and he had to be moved to another prison. Nor does she mention “in a court motion filed last fall, Dzhokhar’s defense attorneys referred to an “identified witness [who] would be prepared to
    testify” for prosecutors that their client was well aware that his
    big brother had committed the Waltham atrocities—and that Dzhokhar
    was afraid of him.”

    She did mention this fact: “The government recently claimed it has no evidence linking Tamerlan to the Waltham murders, so there is nothing to produce in court—a stance that contradicts many earlier statements tying Tamerlan and Todashev to the crimes.” Which one is to conclude that the FBI’s purpose of visiting
    Todashev was to murder him. Todashev’s roommate even says one of the FBI agents told him he came in from Chicago for a special mission.
    The sudden reversal of Tamerlan not being involved in the Waltham
    murders makes it look like some federal agencies and law enforcement were likely involved in the murders and told the prosecution to back off.

  • Woody Box

    Why was Matanov arrested at all – after one year of observation? Why not before? And for what reason? These are the kind of questions a professional journalist should have asked the FBI – instead of blindly parroting their report.

    • Patriarch

      Because his former roommate was executed.
      He is a valuable witness. Killing him is too suspicious, but if it happened in prison, hehehe…it would be merely karma, dontcha know.

  • Ralph Hornsby

    Someone just tweeted this on twitter: “Ironic that on day #Tsarnaev judge sees no need for hearing to address leaks, piece appears sourced from new FBI leak “

    • jane24

      Thinking “orchestrated” might be more fitting than “ironic.”? Absolutely no coincidences here.

  • DanielLMorley

    LE Never found this little two-bit, podunk bandit with a silver hand gun. Last seen night of the 18th, in front of the Marriott, on Main heading to the bridge……Michelle darling, this would an exclusive.

  • Patriarch

    MCFEE has no ethics.
    Boston Magazine should make her persona non grata.

    Joan rivers would have done a better act.

  • Patriarch

    If Michelle was truly an honest broker she would do deep research into Graham Fuller & his ex-son -in- Law, Ruslan Tsarni aka Tsarnaev, uncle of the Tsaraev brothers.
    HERE IS YOUR SMOKING GUN:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlFhBrMaMsc&list=FLNpPwGaaV9H7U6_i8LvHVuA&index=36

    YOU WANT A PULITZER?
    Not with the FBI fabricated leaks who don’t audio or video record anyone.

    You are truly naive & crave fame, based upon mind-control of the masses in order to taint the jury pool.

    You can only fool some of the people some of the time.

    • public_servant_watch

      Actually the criminal factions that pull this BS ensure there are multiple fabricated side stories as distractions that slow the road to truth and there is a strong appearance that the Graham Fuller story is one of them.

      Investigating these fabricated events such as Sandy Hook, the beheadings, Ebola and more I have found a huge network of people that appear to be government sanctioned frauds working under the cover of company supposedly selling health and beauty aids. It is called It Works / It works Global and it is in fact a global net-work. The faces associated with this event show in every government fabricated psychopathic production from the CEO down. They also engage family and friends as supporting cast to play the family members of victims. There are also numerous crisis clans in this event from all over the country.

      The Tsarnaev family under their actual identities are connected to It Works. “Uncle Ruslan” is an actor and actually the father of the actor playing Tsarnaev. They used age regression for his public appearance. The Todashev family is also actors and the shooting in Florida appears to be part of psychopathic productions and just a way to keep the event in the media and the public eye with a lot of controversy.

      All of the actors in the Tsarnaev/Todashev “families” are related but what is most concerning is that this criminal government engaged foreign nationals and foreigners not on US soil to terrorize and then defraud its own. These events are years in planning it appears there is a huge network that promotes the false identities even before the event which has regular folks believing the tales that follow.

      The government no longer appears to be just “criminal factions” but IN WHOLE corrupt and it does not mind disparaging its own if it keeps the sheep talking and the agenda in progress.

      In the following photos, which are these actors very own photos public postings you wil see “Ruslan”, Zubi” and “Jahar” appearance in 2009. The actor who’s image is being used for Jahar had an appearance change over the years and one court artist back in July 2013 dipicted his appearance accuarately. A photo of how he actually looks today is also posted.

      The video taken in the court that was claimed to be by a Russian and put out to the public was part of the psyop and the purpose was likely to show “Jahar’s” appearance the way he was initially presented to the public and that appearance was achieved with frame by frame photo shopping. If he appears in court hints have already been put out by the corrupt media that there will be another video. The media in the court is well aware this is all a farce.

      I also posted a photo of the actors that are playing the Tsarnaev Aunt and the Todashev Uncle. They are actually married and live in Albania and are relatives of the the family here in the States. A photo of the Todashev actor is posted and then a photo of who they claim is Todashev is posted. There is a photo of the actors playing Todashev and Jahar from 2007. They are cousins. The actor for Tamarlan is brother to the actor playing Todashev but he died in March of 2014; I posted an instaram public photo of him and he is with the actor that is playing the Todashev girlfriend down in florida. I found them all and you can see the pictorial at the following link plus much more regarding the BS this puppet government is putting the through at the direction of their masters.

      Totality speaks. You do not find a group of MULTIPLE connected look-a-likes to a suspicious event without the probability that these are all actors being 100%.

      • Patriarch

        How does HOLDER keep all these characters from coming forward?
        With such a large cast, someone would break his silence.

        How do you photoshop via age regression live interviews?

        Ruslan was interviewed live in front of his house.

        • public_servant_watch

          He may have been interviewed in front of his house but that does not make it on the spot live. Video is shopped the same way photos are shopped only frame by frame. Any statement by the state run media as far as time cannot be trusted. Our news is nothing more than a very bad movie full of lie after lie after lie.

          I do not have the all the answers to the mechanics of a psyop but I do have the photographic evidence that says these were all actors.

          As far as breaking silence, who is going to do it and not fear significant retaliation when that retaliation could mean the person would never work again or possibly be framed with criminal charges.

          • Patriarch

            Sounds like we need an Emile Zola (“j’accuse!”) to risk a libel charge against him/her.

            Whom shall we select for the distinguished investigation..Michelle McFee?

            (fake name for sure)

          • public_servant_watch

            Yes, I would like to know who the skinny kid was the night of the capture and how Sunil Tripathi who was found on April 23rd ended up in the water.

            All the dead/injured clearly BS but I am not so sure about Sunil and regardless if he was helped into the water or not his death is related to hoax activity and a racketeering conpiracy.

            These psychopaths need justice. The “It Works” cult is above the law and the bloated face of the actual actor they used as the face of Jahar WAS NOT the face of kid captured.

  • CATHERINE UNWIN

    as if Tsarnaev would shout **OPEN** to let anyone in an unlocked door. You are a MORON McPhee…FBI are laughing at you.IDIOT

  • 7worldtraveler

    Ha ha! Tamerlan is DEAD. Who’s laughing now?

  • Doomsday Diva

    Dead men tell no tales but Michelle will tell it for them, using convenient prompts from her ‘pals’ at the FBI. In fact, she’s leaking so much that she’d better stock up on a few packs of Tena Lady…

  • Patriarch

    Michelle has an UNEARNED, UNDERSERVING sandwich in her name on the menu at Michael’s Deli.

    Michele McPhee – $ 10.99
    Twin grilled chicken breast, three slices of bacon and smoked gouda cheese with your choice of dressing and bread.

    Guess there are not enough important honorable people to fill the menu items?

  • Patriarch

    Here’s a leak for Michelle.
    Let’s see if she runs with it:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=Df9vb0WceyE