Investigators have always wondered if more people were involved in the bombings than just the brothers
Former Navy investigator: I think "they had somebody who was more of a skilled bomb maker .. assist them"
There was no evidence the brothers ever tested their bombs before using them, CNN analyst says
It was a sophisticated attack with sophisticated devices.
Authorities quickly identified the Boston bombing suspects, but almost immediately after Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during the manhunt for the perpetrators and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, investigators privately questioned if more people were involved.
If there were others, perhaps a bomb maker is on the loose.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told police he and his brother built the bombs, but court documents show some people involved in the case had their doubts.
The bombs were described as powerful pressure-cooker explosives controlled remotely. There were fuses from Christmas lights and detonators constructed from model car parts.
The twin bombings in April 2013 killed three people and wounded more than 250 others.
“These relatively sophisticated devices would have been difficult for the Tsarnaevs to fabricate successfully without training or assistance from others,” prosecutors wrote in a filing opposing a move by Tsarnaev’s lawyer to throw out statements he made in the hospital.
Two years after the attack Michael Marks, a former special agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, agrees on the technical aspects of the bombs.
“These were two relatively sophisticated devices that went off almost simultaneously. They had a very, very short delay,” he said. “It would be my opinion that they had somebody who was more of a skilled bomb maker, an engineer if you will, assist them in saying these are the steps you need to go through and then assemble the device to make it safely and to make it function the way they want.”
They were the kind of bombs that need testing to make sure they work the way you expect.
“There has been no evidence that the two brothers actually tested and tried out making a bomb and detonating it,” CNN National Security Analyst Juliette Kayyem said. “Now it could be luck that they put this thing together, put it at the Boston Marathon finish line, and were able to detonate them so close to each other and sequentially. But it was a pretty sophisticated attack.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told FBI agents he and his brother built the bombs following instructions from al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine.
No one has been publicly named as a possible co-conspirator. Investigators have focused on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s suspected ties to militants.
In 2012 the older Tsarnaev spent six months in Russia. Authorities have questioned how much exposure he may have had to radicals and whether he could have received training there.
There are other clues that the brothers would have needed help with the bombs. There wasn’t trace evidence – black powder from fireworks – found in either home, their cars or anywhere associated with them, the court documents said.
Also, investigators apparently were troubled that they recovered one remote-controlled detonator at the scene of the bombings when there should have been two. That suggested the other was being kept to use with other bombs.
Marks said investigators didn’t find circuit testers.
“You want a separate circuit tester in order to test the functionality of the components without it being hooked up to the actual device, for your own safety,” he said.
Co-conspirator or victim?
The trial underway in Boston will center on not whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did it, but why he did it.
The prosecution will paint a portrait of a cruel co-conspirator, an equal partner in hideous crimes. A man who planned to kill and did.
But the defense will draw the accused as a boy living in the shadow of a mastermind older brother. Younger, struggling in school, abandoned by his parents. An easy victim of deep manipulation.
The question of how he was influenced is essential to the case.
Kayyem, who said she believes the brothers acted in tandem without outside help, said she think the defense strategy will be to create enough doubt within the jurors’ minds of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s mental state leading into this.
“So this idea that there might be some evil hand out there telling Dzhokhar what to do – whether it’s his brother or someone who’s a bomb maker – fits nicely into that narrative,” she said.