The mother of the brothers accused of the Boston bombings is adamant her sons are innocent and claims she is not a terrorist.
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva has been defensive of her sons one moment, and consumed with grief the next during interviews given in Dagestan, where she lives. “It’s all lies and hypocrisy,” she said “I’m sick and tired of all this nonsense that they make up about me and my children. People know me as a regular person, and I’ve never been mixed up in any criminal intentions, especially any linked to terrorism.”
The U.S. government has evidence that suggests otherwise. Russian authorities told U.S. investigators they had intercepted two of Tsarnaeva’s phone calls. One was with her eldest son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, during which they ambiguously discussed jihad. The second phone call was with someone in southern Russia whom the FBI is investigating in an unrelated case. Russia told U.S. officials about the calls after the bombings. Had the U.S. government known about them before, it might have prompted the FBI to do a more thorough investigation of the Tsarnaev family.
During an interview last week with her ex-husband, Anzor Tsarnaev, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva complained, “They already are talking about that we are terrorists, I am terrorist. They already want me, him, and all of us to look [like] terrorists.” In photos of her as a young woman, Tsarnaeva wears a low-cut blouse and has her hair teased like a 1980s rock star. Now she wears a hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering, wherever she goes.
Tsarnaeva settled in Cambridge, Mass., in 2002 and squeezed into a third-floor apartment with her husband and four children. They were on and off food stamps and public assistance benefits for years. Tsarnaeva studied at the Catherine Hinds Institute of Esthetics, eventually getting a job at a day spa, while her husband, who had studied law in their home country, worked on cars.
Bethany Smith, who became friends with Zubeidat’s two daughters, told Newsday Thursday she lived with the family for a month in 2008 while looking for colleges. She was a Christian with tattoos, but Smith said the Tsarnaev family welcomed her anyway. “I had nothing but love over there,” she said. “They accepted me for who I was. Their mother, Zubeidat, she considered me to be a part of the family. She called me her third daughter.”
Tsarnaeva eventually quit her job at the spa and began giving spa treatments out of her apartment. One of her clients, Alyssa Kilzer, quit getting facials from her in late 2011 or early 2012 after Tsarnaeva talked about 9/11 being a conspiracy perpetuated by the U.S. government. Kilzer quoted Tsarnaeva saying, “It’s real. My son knows all about it. You can read on the internet.”
Kilzer also noticed Tsarnaeva began wearing a headscarf before leaving the apartment. “She had never worn a hijab while working at the spa previously, or inside the house,” Kilzer said. “I was really surprised.” Kilzer wrote in a post on her blog, “She started to refuse to see boys that had gone through puberty, as she had consulted a religious figure and he had told her it was sacrilegious. She was often fasting.”
Ruslan Tsarni, Anzor Tsarnaev’s brother from Maryland, said his sister-in-law encouraged Tamerlan to quit boxing and school and embrace the Muslim faith more deeply. He believes Tsarnaeva had a “big-time influence” on her eldest son. Tsarnaeva and her husband divorced in 2011.
While Tamerlan was in Russia for six months in 2012, Tsarnaeva was arrested at a mall in Natick, Mass. She is accused of attempting to shoplift $1,624 of women’s clothing from a Lord and Taylor department store. She did not go to court on her court date, leaving the country instead. Tsarnaeva and her ex-husband have delayed previous plans to travel to the United States to claim Tamerlan’s body and visit their youngest son, Dzhokhar, in prison. Anzor Tsarnaev says he is too ill to travel.