US charges Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston Marathon bombing

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The United States on Monday charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, with perpetrating the bombings of the Boston Marathon last week.

Tsarnaev, recovering from gunshot wounds sustained in a police chase that killed his brother and accused accomplice, was formally charged and advised of his rights in his Boston Beth Israel-Deaconess hospital bed, by US Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler. In the presence of three federal defense attorneys,  Tsarnaev nodded affirmatively when asked by the judge if he understood the charges and his rights, and said “no,” when asked if he could afford an attorney, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Tsarnaev, a naturalized American of Chechen descent who has been in the United States since he was 9 years old, was charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction, and malicious destruction of property resulting in death, according to the 10-page federal complaint (.pdf). The charges, if proven, carry a penalty of life imprisonment or, if a jury decides, the death penalty. Additional charges could be added as the investigation proceeds.

The twin bombs, made of pressure cookers and dropped in backpacks near the finish line of the marathon April 15th, killed three people, including an 8 year old boy, and wounded over 200, some of whom were severely maimed.

Reports over the weekend pieced together from interviews with relatives and associates of the Tsarnaev family in North America and Dagestan, Russia, described Dzhokhar as a smart, seemingly well-adjusted and popular teenager, a former captain of his Cambridge high school wrestling team, who was until last week a college sophomore at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. However, his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, killed in a police shoot out early Friday, had a more troubling path and was described as growing increasingly alienated and extreme. Once a talented boxer, Tamerlin quit the sport, dropped out of community college in 2008, got arrested for assaulting a girlfriend in 2009, and was thrown out of his Cambridge mosque twice in the past year for outbursts denouncing the sermons as being “un-Islamic,” the Boston Globe reported.

In 2012, Tamerlin traveled to Dagestan, Russia for six months, as well as to Chechnya, to visit relatives, according to media interviews given by his father, Aznor Tsarnaev. Whether Tamerlin possibly made contact with jihadi radicals on that trip is a focus of US terrorism investigators now. Other accounts, including from a paternal uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, suggest Tamerlan’s radicalization began in Boston, starting years earlier.

Though accounts generally describe Tamerlan as the presumed ringleader of the plot and Dzholkhar as the loyal brother dragged into it, the federal complaint offers a chilling description of Dzholkhar’s behavior on videos the FBI obtained from the scene of the marathon bombings.

After the first explosion went off on Boston’s Boylston street last Monday afternoon, “virtually every head [in the crowd] turns to …that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm,” the affidavit states.

But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, “virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm,” the affidavit continues. “He walks away without his knapsack… Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber 2 [Dzhokhar] had placed his knapsack.”

Meantime, the FBI said Saturday that in early 2011 it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and members of the family at the request of a foreign government, subsequently identified as Russia. The Russian government said it had information that Tamerlan had become “a follower of radical Islam” and “had changed drastically since 2010” as he “prepared to leave the United States and… join unspecific underground groups” in Russia, according to the FBI press release.

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Sen. Nelson: Netanyahu raised no concerns about Hagel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised no concerns about President Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, US Senator Bill Nelson said in Israel Tuesday.

Nelson, a Florida Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “that Hagel has a record of support for Israel” and he will vote to confirm him, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Nelson spoke on a visit to Israel following meetings Tuesday with Israeli leaders and Israeli intelligence officials about Iran’s nuclear program.

So far, several Democrats on the armed services panel have indicated they plan to back Hagel’s confirmation, including its chair, Carl Levin of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island—a close Hagel friend—and now Nelson.

Several Republicans have said they have strong concerns about the former two term Nebraska Republican and decorated Vietnam combat veteran. Among them, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the armed services panel; David Vitter (Louisiana), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), and Texas’ junior Senator Ted Cruz.

Both former Defense Secretary Bob Gates and ret. Gen. Colin Powell, with wide bipartisan support, issued statements strongly endorsing Hagel for Secretary of Defense on Monday.

Meantime, the Council on Foreign Relations told Al Monitor Tuesday that controversial accusations made by its senior fellow Elliott Abrams in an interview Monday did not represent the views of the institution.

Abrams, the former Bush White House Middle East advisor, called Hagel an anti Semite in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered. The accusation was widely lambasted on social media sites after the interview aired. Asked by Al-Monitor what evidence he has to support his accusation, Abrams did not respond.

Abrams’ wife Rachel Abrams is a founding board member of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a Bill Kristol–led, GOP group at the center of the anti-Hagel campaign. ECI previously ran TV ads against President Obama’s 2012 reelection.

“As you may know, the Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional position on matters of policy,” CFR’s vice president for global communications and media relations Lisa Shields told Al-Monitor by email Tuesday. “The views expressed by our more than seventy experts, who reflect a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives, are theirs only.”

(Photo: Democratic Senator Bill Nelson during a debate October 17, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper.)