Inspire, Hijacking, and the Second Car

Just wanted to put up a post addressing several questions on the Boston Marathon attack we’ve been discussing.

First, NBC reports that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told authorities they learned how to make a pressure cooker bomb by reading AQAP’s Inspire magazine.

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon attack has told investigators that he and his brother got instructions on building bombs from an online magazine published by al Qaeda, federal law enforcement officials told NBC News.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators that the brothers read the instructions in Inspire, an online, English-language magazine that terror monitoring groups say al Qaeda began publishing in 2010.

The magazine has twice included articles on building bombs with kitchen pressure cookers — the method investigators say Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, used in the Boston attack.

If true (remember, this revelation presumably took place at a time when Dzhokhar was not 100%), it suggests that killing a bunch of people in Yemen won’t keep us safe from terrorism.

No doubt, though, it will be used to distract attention from the other reported fact that the brothers were working alone, and were effectively disgruntled American immigrants reacting to US wars against Muslims rather than members of a foreign terrorist group. Because the punditocracy is trying really hard to avoid considering why guys who had spent so much time in the US would do this, absent external encouragement.

Next, the hijack victim. It had been reported he was not a citizen. The Daily Mail claims the victim was Chinese. This conflicts with an earlier Fox report, which said the victim was white. And in this limited instance, I think Fox may be more accurate than a London rag. But I repeat my earlier questions about whether this victim’s identity has been so closely guarded because FBI may need to shore up his visa to ensure he’ll be available for testimony (and let me be clear, I say this from close second-hand observation of what happens when a non permanent resident becomes the critical witness in a legal case, which is why I raise it).

Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to this astounding account from a Watertown resident who chronicled the shootout between the brothers and the cops. It appears to be the best account of that fight (and shows that it was not as large scale as we might imagine given the massive manhunt that followed it).

I’m most interested by this description, confirming the brothers did indeed (as earlier reported by the Watertown police chief) have two cars — the stolen Mercedes and a sedan that was reported as a Honda.

The shooters were also driving the green sedan on the left. They had the back passenger door open and were going back into the car where they had additional supplies (assumingly, more ammunition and explosives). They also had backpacks at their feet where they also had additional supplies.

The role of the second car is actually something entirely obscured in the complaint, which describes one brother (I suspect, Tamerlan) hijacking the Mercedes, then picking up the other brother, then allowing the victim escape at a snack stop. The complaint then picks up the narrative with the Watertown cops IDing the vehicle.

A short time later, the vehicle was located by law enforcement in Watertown, Massachusetts.

But, given the wonderful time stamps offered in this photo account, the brothers had made their snack stop, gotten the second car, and gotten to Watertown in a matter of 15 minutes.

So where was the car? Had it been stashed somewhere to allow a getaway?

57 replies
  1. JThomason says:

    Not to confuse matters but I believe you will be able to find reports that the police scanner feed referenced a stolen state police suv at the time immediately prior to the Thursday night shootout in Watertown. I can understand that this report contemporaneous with events may have been a misperception but it bolsters the two car theory.

  2. phred says:

    If they were planning ahead and if they stayed on Memorial Drive after releasing/losing the carjacking victim, there is a stretch near Harvard where cars can park on Mem Drive at night. It scares the crap out of the uninitiated, because you are happily driving along in the right hand lane, when all of a sudden there are a bunch of parked cars in front of you.

    Just about everything the brothers did on Thursday night mystifies me, but if they planned to go to Watertown (why?!?) or to at least head west on Mem Drive (why???), then leaving a car there (on Mem Drive) would make sense and it would take little time along the way.

  3. citizen92 says:

    re: the carjacking victim

    According to today’s reports the carjacking victim “speaks little to no English.”

    How do the police figure out the guy’s cell phone number if they can’t speak his language?

    Also, Mercedes SUV keeps sticking with me. If it was a G-Wagen, that would not be a common car. And Tamerlan allegely had his own white Mercedes sedan (see reports about the abrupt pickup from the body shop on 4/17). Sounds like he was a Mercedes fan. Wonder why the car was in the shop.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @citizen92: The car needed work on its bumper–they picked it up w/o the bumper being put back on.

    I still think it’s likely they found the car w/Merc’s tracking system, rather than the cell phone. It’d be quicker (though would still require the driver’s help).

    But any difficulty in working with the driver might begin to explain why Watertown had to deal w/the shootout mostly by themselves and that backup came later.

  5. citizen92 says:

    @ ew

    I am wondering aloud if the sedan’s bumper had been damaged in the conmission of some other crime prior to the 4/15 blasts.

    These guys planned on some mayhem. Why bother getting your car repaired, unless you didn’t want to draw attention to yourself.

  6. Alice_X says:

    Why do the ‘two shooters’ have the ‘two vehicles’ headlights on?

    For photo ops?

    Enhanced target practice? They being the targets.

    I can understand the police vehicles having their lights on, pointed forward as they seem to be.

  7. citizen92 says:


    I believe the scanner feeds talk about a stolen SUV from State Police. In other words, the Staties were tracking a stolen SUV and were goving Waterttown local PD heads up it was coming their way. That’s just the way they talk in the areas around the Citteh of Bahston.

  8. FrankProbst says:

    Reposting my question from a previous thread: The complaint makes it sound like one of the brothers carjacked the Mercedes, then picked up the other brother before the shootout. If this is the case, isn’t it likely that only one of the brothers was involved in the killing of the MIT police officer? It seems odd that that was left out of the complaint. I’m sure the lawyers will say (correctly, I’d guess) that they didn’t need to put this in the complaint, because they already had enough to hold him, but if you want to make sure someone doesn’t make bail, it seems like a sentence mentioning the murder of a police officer would bolster your case.

  9. JThomason says:

    @citizen92: OK. I get what you are saying. You are saying that the scanner speak qualifies the source of the allegation. A kind of radio “short hand” for “as per state police.” May be? I have just been suprised that this facet hasn’t been addressed more clearly. I have been confused since this happened about whether the suspects were in one or two vehicles because of what I have gleaned about the scanner feed. And this is especially true after the identification of the Mercedes.

    Edit: I believe the exact language on the scanner was “state police stolen SUV.”

  10. phred says:

    @FrankProbst: From what I have read, the murder of the police officer will be left for a state complaint (as opposed to federal). At this point, we know next to nothing about the murder of the police officer at MIT, so I’m not sure why you are focused on whether one brother or two was involved with that particular act.

    I’m far more confused about the two cars. Why two? Why not stay together in one vehicle? Heck, why not just leave town without attracting attention? Or if they wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, why not dig in with all the ordnance at hand and wreak as much havoc as possible? None of this makes sense. Which now that I think of it is probably why this sort of thing is called “senseless violence”.

  11. pdaly says:


    I cannot figure out whether Watertown was their planned destination. If they were trying to make a getaway, what about the Massachusetts Turnpike entrance near the Mobil gas station at Memorial Drive and River Street, Cambridge where they let the carjack victim go? The Turnpike could take them to western Massachusetts and then depending on which interstate they chose either north to Vermont/New Hampshire/Canada, west to New York or south to CT/NYC.

    If the green car was the getaway car, why were they still driving the carjacked SUV in Watertown? Or was the get away car in Watertown? Or did they need both vehicles for some reason?

  12. JThomason says:

    So if the owner of the Mercedes doesn’t speak english, how is it that he understood the admission that was purportedly the first thing said in the carjacking and an element of the probable casue affidavit?

  13. bell says:

    first off – thanks ew for trying to piece everything together in all of this. regarding this quote “Because the punditocracy is trying really hard to avoid considering why guys who had spent so much time in the US would do this…”
    i think this is really true. it is like the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about, or is it that obvious to most everyone that no one wants to talk about it? or, perhaps that not much can be said about it even if it is talked about as it would create a conversation that the us isn’t interested in having.

  14. pdaly says:

    No clue. One report stated the suspects released him because he was not American. Yet, the fact that the Boston Marathon is an international event didn’t deter them one bit from exploding bombs among the crowd of onlookers.

  15. yellowsnapdragon says:

    …including the death of a foreign national–a Chinese woman. So if the carjack victim was Chinese, it makes no sense whatsoever. Then again, sometimes crime just doesn’t make any sense.

  16. kerri says:

    Looking at the pictures of the “astounding account from a Watertown resident” (Google map: 61 Laurel St in Watertown);

    If older brother was taken down on Laurel Street by Dexter Ave why was he seen dead on the street between the Bedrosian Funeral Home and Pediatrics Home on Upland Rd and Mt. Auburn? And why does Gabe give this account:
    or google: UPDATE: Naked man arrested in Watertown, MA related to boston bombing

    saying he saw the naked man taken into custody down Nichols towards Dexter St when, in the video the reporters clearly say and show that the naked man and the dead guy were at the same place; right between the Pediatrics Home & The Aram Bedrosian Funeral Home on Uplands and Mt. Auburn.

    Also wondering, Andrew Kitzenburg, in his pictures from his window on Laurel St, does he have any pictures of all the smoke that filled up the street? His pictures show only a 3 minute time between what he says is a bomb, then the street filled with smoke, and the suspect already down the street (dead? can’t tell) and smoked cleared. All while the pictures are blurry until the cops come then they’re clear. Just wondering.

  17. scribe says:

    @pdaly: You’ve got to assume the toll-takers on the Mass. Pike would have had/seen the images of these two, and that the E-Z Pass would have been twigged to scream if they had E-Z Pass and tried to go through. At best, there would have been a high-speed chase on the Pike ending with a gunbattle on the roadside, as opposed to a residential street.

    But, I have to think, these two were not thinking clearly but rather were acting out of panic, running with neither a discernable plan nor much thought.

  18. scribe says:

    @yellowsnapdragon: I don’t think that, in setting a bomb in this incident, anyone could be thinking “I’ll set the bomb here because she’s Chinese”, for lots and lots of reasons. They were trying to kill at wholesale and likely didn’t give much thought to anything other than setting it near a crowd.

  19. P J Evans says:

    The naked guy and the dead guy are two different people. The official version is that when younger brother escaped, he drove over and dragged his brother to the corner. (Apparently older brother’s clothing got snagged on the undercarriage somehow. While it’s implied that being run over is what killed him, it’s possible that he wasn’t actually hit by the SUV, and it was the assorted wounds (including apparently the bomb) that did all the damage.)

  20. yellowsnapdragon says:

    @scribe: Yes, that’s my point too. Dropping a bomb in a public place kills randomly, especially at an international event. So, releasing a hostage based on the victim’s ethnicity seems unlikely.

  21. kerri says:

    @P J Evans:

    Forgot to include this video of dead guy and naked guy in same place:

    Just sayin’, dead guy shown on street (0:56) in front of Pediatrics sign on Upland Rd. and Mt Auburn St. doesn’t look like he was dragged. His body would have been mangled, clothes and shoes ripped off. Anyways, he would have had to have been dragged from Laurel St, then 7 blocks down Dexter, and across a busy intersection; Mt. Auburn St to Upland Rd.

    I’ve clearly spend too much time on this subject but I find the reporting to be painfully inconsistent, careless, incomplete, confusing, manipulative, and very sad.

  22. JThomason says:

    Thanks for this thread and the opportunity to seek after a rational narrative. This is another item I am having difficulty reconciling. The image does not appear to be the suspect who was stripped, but maybe it is. I am wondering if anyone has a sense of where this moment fits into the story:

    Edit: Apparently this image was tweeted by Seth Mnookin at 11:16 PM – 18 Apr 2013.

  23. FrankProbst says:

    Just re-read the complaint. It’s fairly clear that they’re saying the second brother got into the car and drove around a bit before getting into the firefight with the police, and that they were both in the SUV when the firefight started. ew’s right–it isn’t scanning at all. They’d already loaded a bunch of stuff into the SUV from another car. So why go BACK to the second car?

    As for why I keep going back to the MIT Police Officer, I agree with Marcy with Tamerlan is more likely to be the first carjacker. I also think that, since the two brothers obviously weren’t together until they met up with in the SUV, Tamerlan killed the MIT Police Officer on his own.

  24. Snoopdido says:

    As anyone can engage in speculation, take this CBS report today with a grain of salt (

    “The investigation also has yielded new insight about the motive for the robberies and carjacking committed by the suspects on Thursday night, a bloody night that began when they approached and shot an MIT police officer, Sean Collier, “in the head, unprovoked,” Miller said.

    The operating theory currently held by investigators looking to explain the assassination is “that they were short one gun, that the older brother had a gun, they wanted to get a gun for the younger brother and the fastest and most efficient way they could think of doing it was a surprise attack on a cop to take his weapon and go.”

    But the suspects failed in that aim, because Officer Collier had a locking holster and they were unable to remove the gun. “There was apparently an attempt to yank it,” Miller said, “And they couldn’t get it and left.”

  25. FrankProbst says:

    OT but likely of interest to ew: Is the whole ricin thing starting to remind you of the anthrax letters? Only this time, as the saying goes, not as history, but as farce. Our prime suspect, an Elvis impersonator, was just released after the FBI couldn’t find any trace of ricin in his house or car (no ricin-sniffing dogs this time). And now it looks like he may have been set up by a political rival. Can you imagine having “Elvis-impersonator’s rival” on your resume?

  26. FrankProbst says:

    I STILL can’t put the murder of the MIT Police Officer into the timeline:

    @35 above: “The investigation also has yielded new insight about the motive for the robberies and carjacking committed by the suspects on Thursday night, a bloody night that BEGAN [my emphasis] when they approached and shot an MIT police officer, Sean Collier, “in the head, unprovoked,” Miller said.

    Note that it’s both brothers we’re talking about here. The idea that they were after the police officer’s gun seems really odd to me. All the stories I’ve read have implied–if not outright stated–that they both had guns.

    WHERE exactly was the police officer killed? I’ve read in the 7-Eleven parking lot (the 7-Eleven where Dzhokhar is on the security footage). But that wasn’t at the BEGINNING of their spree that night. It was after the carjacking, picking up the second brother, and stopping for snacks. If we can’t get the time exactly right, we should be able to get the place.

  27. FrankProbst says:

    BTW, more skepticism on the “one gun” issue: If Tamerlan rushed the cops at the end of their firefight, wouldn’t he have taken his gun with him? That would mean Dzhokhar was left unarmed. That could explain why he got in the car and rammed the police “blockade”, but now he’s been shot several times, and he ends up hiding in someone’s boat. Unless he happened to find another gun in the SUV, that means he was unarmed when he was inside the boat, which would mean the firefight at the boat was pretty one-sided.

  28. Snoopdido says:

    @Snoopdido: CBS News has an updated article by John Miller (Police believe Tsarnaev brothers killed officer for his gun –

    “A remaining mystery of the Boston Marathon bombings manhunt has been why Sean Collier — a campus police officer at MIT — was apparently lured into an ambush and shot to death on Thursday night.

    Police now think they have the answer. Investigators now believe that Officer Collier was killed because the two bombing suspects wanted to take his gun.

    Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev only had one real gun and one pellet gun. Investigators believe because the officer’s holster had a locking system, they apparently couldn’t get the gun out.”

    I’m skeptical that this is true. The simple fact of the matter is that both of the Brothers Tsarnaev were firing guns as shown in those Kitzenberg pictures of the firefight. If the CBS News story is accurate, where did the Brothers Tsarnaev get the 2nd gun?

    An additional point that comes out in this latest CBS News article:

    “It appears as if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not have a gun in the boat. So how did the shooting start there?

    The issue goes to what the police were perceiving. One officer had the high ground and saw the tarp on the boat flip up and said he saw a hand come out with an object in it. He didn’t think it was a gun, he thought Tsarnaev was about to throw another bomb. He fired a couple times.

    Other officers who were just arriving, saw the tarp flip up and heard gun fire and apparently believed it was Tsarnaev firing out, so they laid down covering fire at that boat until the incident commander said cease fire.”

    This should lay to rest the speculation that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attempted suicide by shooting himself in the throat/neck/head. It’s more like that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was shot either in the initial firefight or when law enforcement opened fire on him in the boat.

  29. For The Turnstiles says:

    The FBI and Justice Department put-on a clever media dog and pony show last night to trumpet how the combined forces of law enforcement successfully captured the Boston Marathon Bombers, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Within 24 hours of the bombing, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had escaped in plain sight by returning to their normal activities, even though the older brother Tamerlan had been a focus of FBI surveillance in 2011. The real crime-scene-investigative heroes were millions of members of the internet social media website Reddit, who virally leveraged their diverse skills as citizen-social-investigators.

    Unknown to the Tsarnaevs, who were probably basking in the glory of their perfect crime and dreaming up the next slaughter for their Chechen offensive, the Reddit citizen-social-investigators had identified Dzhokhar and Tamerlan by analyzing the bombers’ hats to pin-point the Tsarnaev brothers as the “unsubs.” Reddit had also identified their new Camaro get-away-car and was closing in on their current location.

    The Tsarnaevs, who were also monitoring Reddit, suddenly realized they had been identified as perpetrators and were forced to break their disciplined covers by robbing a 7-11 store for quick cash, assassinating a campus policeman, and then botching their escape when they car-jacked a Mercedes with a Lo-Jack security system. It still took law enforcement another 48 hours of dodging homemade grenades and engaging in multiple gun fights with automatic weapons to stop the Chechen terrorists.

  30. P J Evans says:

    We’re supposed to believe Chambliss because … well, he is a senator. From Georgia, IIRC.

    If he has special information, or knows someone who knew in advance, then he needs to make a report to the investigators, including the reasons why they weren’t told about the plan in advance.
    Or he can shut his mouth and stop pretending he’s an expert on anything, including being a senator.

  31. P J Evans says:

    @For The Turnstiles:
    That might be true in someone’s imagination. But it doesn’t actually fit the facts. All those wonderful Internet sleuths identified the wrong people. Several times. They never did ID the Tsarnaevs – that was done by people who actually know them.

  32. FrankProbst says:

    Let me clarify my above statement by saying I’m not criticizing the police for the “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude at the boat. At that point, in addition to the bombings, the brothers had killed a police officer and thrown portable bombs at the police during a firefight. I’m just saying that Dzhokhar couldn’t have been shooting back if he didn’t have a gun. (And there would’ve been no way for the police to know he didn’t have a gun.) He may have had one or more bombs, too, so he could’ve killed more people even without a gun. But the details here just aren’t adding up quite yet.

  33. FrankProbst says:

    @PJ Have you watched “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” It’s a lot like the US Senate, only Lochte is younger, smarter, more accomplished, and more attractive than your average US Senator.

  34. citizen92 says:

    This account has a different order.

    1. Green Honda arrives. Older brother hops out, firing rounds.

    2. Watertown PD cruiser put in gear by officers and sent down the street driverless toward shooter, crashes.

    3. Black Mercedes arrives. Bombs hurled.

    The PD cruiser crash seems substantiated, because you can see the WPD unit in one of Kitzenburg’s photos (oddly, now down but on CBS’ site). The car was resting in his front yard, door open. Kitzenburg states it crashed.

    So if Tamerlan was driving the Honda, presumably little brother was driving the SUV?

  35. lefty665 says:

    @P J Evans: @43 Remember Chambliss and his attack on Max Cleland, triple amputee, Vietnam Vet as Bin Laden and Saddam sympathizer. You can’t believe anything the M$%^&* F$%^&* says.

  36. pdaly says:

    That’s interesting. The Shell gas station is directly across the street (River St) from the Mobil gas station to which I believe the victim ran. Both gas stations have entrances onto Memorial Drive.

    From this description it sounds like the victim actively escaped and in retrospect the brothers ‘let him go’ by not coming after him.

  37. FrankProbst says:

    @citizen92 Again, the details are off, and this doesn’t really fit at all with the complaint. There would’ve had to have been a lot of “car swapping” for this timeline to work. Here, the older brother has the Honda and the gun. The younger brother has the Mercedes SUV and, we’ve been told, no gun. So for this to fit with the complaint, the carjacking victim would’ve escaped BOTH brothers, and then Tamerlan would’ve had to keep the gun and pick up the green Honda and leave Dzhokhar with the SUV.

    Something’s just off here. I agree with Marcy that there’s something going on with the SUV driver. But there are other details that the MSM should’ve been able to get out of the police by now. When and where was the MIT police officer killed? Who was/is the owner of the Honda? Did Dzhokhar have a gun when he was captured? And why was the complaint inaccurate about the second car?

  38. pdaly says:

    “When and where was the MIT police officer killed?”

    This detail at least seems the most consistent in the media. According to Cambridge Police Dept, officer Collier was shot around 10:20 pm in his car while responding to a disturbance at Vassar and Main Streets, Cambridge near Building 32 (the “Stata” building). Officers were on the scene by 10:30pm. Officer Collier was pronounced dead at Massachusetts General Hospital. Investigation determined two men were involved in the shooting. (This last part seems less clear in the other versions on the internet).

    Here’s the Cambridge Police Department announcement:

    “At approximately 10:20 p.m. April 18, police received reports of shots fired on the MIT campus. At 10:30 p.m., an MIT campus police officer was found shot in his vehicle in the area of Vassar and Main streets. According to authorities, the officer was found evidencing multiple gunshot wounds. He was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital and pronounced deceased.

    Authorities launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the shooting. The investigation determined that two males were involved in this shooting.

    A short time later, police received reports of an armed carjacking by two males in the area of Third Street in Cambridge. The victim was carjacked at gunpoint by two males and was kept in the car with the suspects for approximately a half hour. The victim was released at a gas station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. He was not injured.”

    Again this last part is hard to believe since the two brothers had two cars in Watertown. Where did the second car come from if both brothers were in the SUV with the carjacking victim?

  39. P J Evans says:

    Probably one brother was dropped off to collect the vehicle they’d come in. It’s still confused – one of the problems is that there are several agencies involved, and they each have their own independent version of what was going on.

    I understand that younger brother has said they bought fireworks in NH, to use for the powder. Turns out that the store owner remembers it, because the request was for the highest-powered ones he stocked, instead of a more assorted collection.

  40. Catherine Fitzpatrick says:

    Re: “No doubt, though, it will be used to distract attention from the other reported fact that the brothers were working alone, and were effectively disgruntled American immigrants reacting to US wars against Muslims rather than members of a foreign terrorist group.”

    If American immigrants get disgruntled about American wars, it may be due to the fact that they come from countries without free and dissenting media, where they are constantly fed anti-American propaganda, and never learn, for example, that most of the killing in Iraq and Afghanistan was done not by American troops but by terrorists, Al Qaeda, Iran supported militants, Taliban, etc.

    And when they come here, they find that myopic narrative of America to blame for all the world’s ills still served up to them by free liberal media, with little dissent despite the freedom, and with dissent written off as “conspiracy theory” or “Sarah Palin” or “Rush Limbaugh” or “Fox News”.

    There’s also this typical touching American exceptionalism in reverse — if only America were good and did what you say, then all the world’s problems would be gone. No terrorist would ever strike again in Pakistan, etc.

    It’s good to question everything about this story. The shoot-outs have many contradicting versions. Did the suspect have a gun in the boat or not? Was the suspect dead before run over by his brother or not?

    As for “Why MIT?” — police have said that they needed to get a second gun, and thought killing a policeman at MIT was the easiest way to get it. I had to wonder — terrorists who could build bombs couldn’t figure out how to buy a gun somewhere on the black market or in a state nearby legally?

    I wonder if they had an accomplice who was supposed to be waiting at MIT for them but didn’t show up.

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