New pictures from the Boston Marathon taken in the moments after the deadly blasts that left three dead and nearly 180 injured, show that the explosives packed inside rigged pressure cookers were planted next to a Russian flag that hung among other banners along the street.
It has been revealed that the prime suspects in the bombings are Chechen brothers, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his 19-year-old sibling, Dzhokhar.
If investigators prove that the Tsarnaev brothers were aligned with the decades-long Chechen fight for independence, the Boston attacks would mark the first time that Chechen separatists had struck on foreign soil.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been captured Friday night following an intense manhunt that culminated in a police gunfight in Watertown.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is suspected of having received military training abroad last year, was shot dead during an armed confrontation with authorities the night before.
The Tsranaev family, who are ethnic Chechens, lived in Kyrgyzstan and then moved to Dagestan in the 1990s before finally seeking asylum in the US in 2002.
“This family is a very rare episode. Very few make it here, even fewer get green cards,” Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, told USA Today.
According to the newspaper, fewer than 200 Chechen immigrants currently living in the US, and most of them reside in the Boston area.
About 70% of the Chechen immigrants are women because very few men are granted asylum over terrorism concerns.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Chechnya has been locked in a bloody struggle for independence with Russia, which had been punctuated with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks on Russian soil.
The latest bombing took place January 2011 when the Domodedovo airport in Moscow was rocked by an explosion that killed at least 6 people and left more than 130 injured. Islamist insurgent Daku Umarov later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan but identified himself as a proud Chechen on a social media site as well as on his Twitter account.
He wrote: “Proud to be from Chechnya, I miss my homeland,” accompanied by the hashtag “chechnyanpower”.
His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was a competitive boxer in Boston, said in a 2009 interview that if he cannot represent Chechnya in the Olympics, he would rather become a naturalized US citizen and compete for America than for Russia.
Since the bombings in Boston, Russian and Chechen officials alike were quick to point out that the Tsarnaevs have been out of the country for more than two decades and have no ties to Chechnya.
One explanation for the Boston bombings is that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were swayed by radical jihadism rather than Chechen separatism, the Washington Post reported.
FBI officials confirmed Friday that they questioned Tamerlan Tsaranaev in 2011 at the request of the Russian government about possible ties to Chechen separatists, but he was let go because the investigation found “no derogatory information”.
Russian forces officially left Chechnya in 2009, but their departure was marked by a rise in violence in neighboring countries in the Caucasus region, including Dagestan, where the Tsranaevs once sought refuge, and where the brothers’ parents currently reside.
According to an official familiar with Tamerlan Tsranaev’s travels last year, the 26-year-old spent six months in Dagestan.
Travel records obtained by NBC 4 New York show that Tamerlan Tsarnaev left New York January 12, 2012, en route to Moscow. He returned to JFK July 17.
Documents show a photo of a bearded Tamerlan Tsarnaev. According to the records, he was born October 21, 1986 and first entered US through JFK July 19, 2003.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, said in a statement that attempts “to draw a parallel between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if they are guilty, are futile. They grew up in the US, and their views and beliefs were formed there. The roots of the evil should be looked for in America”.
Russian authorities said that they were unable to provide their American counterparts with any valuable information about the Tsranaevs since the family had lived out of the country for many years.
One trail in the search for clues about why two ethnic Chechen brothers may have carried out the Boston Marathon bombings leads to a sleepy town in Kyrgyzstan where former neighbors recall a quiet family that was never in trouble.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are remembered as decent and obedient boys from their time in the 1990s in the small community of Chechens in Tokmok, a leafy town under the snow-capped Tien Shan mountains outside the capital Bishkek.