TORONTO – The Canadian aunt of the two suspects in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings refuses to believe “those beautiful boys” were responsible for such an atrocity.
Maret Tsarnaeva, a Toronto resident, demanded to see hard proof that her nephews Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19 — both from a Russian region near Chechnya — were involved in the bombings.
“I do not believe these two boys have done that act of atrocity killing those people on the street and I will not believe that until, until I get evidence,” she said in the lobby of her west-end Toronto apartment building.
“We’re talking about three dead people, 100-something injured and I do not believe, I just do not believe our boys would do that…I don’t know them in the way that they could be capable of this.”
The terror attacks on Monday near the finish line of the storied 42-kilometre race killed three people and wounded more than 180 others.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed Thursday night during a shootout with police and a huge manhunt is underway in Boston for his brother.
Though she is clearly skeptical of the authorities linking her nephews to the bombings, to the younger Tsarnaev, their aunt said, “If that is you, you take the blame, because if you did it, you did it for some purpose,” she said. “Explain it. Take the responsibility.”
Tsarnaeva said she hasn’t seen her brother’s sons in five years.
The family is Muslim and the elder brother — who has a young daughter about three years old with his Christian wife — had recently become more religious, Tsarnaeva said.
The family moved to the United States in 2002 under refugee status, she said. Before then they had been living in Kyrgyzstan, where they had fled to when war broke out in Chechnya in the early 1990s, she said.
The parents and Dzhokhar came in 2002 then the other three children — Tamerlan and two sisters — came not long after, she said.
Their father, Anzor Tsarnaev, who is now living in the Russian city of Makhachkala said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that his younger son, Dzhokhar, is “a true angel.” He said his son was studying medicine.
“He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here,” the father said.
Tamerlan visited his parents earlier this year, Tsarnaeva said.
The elder brother — who recently became a U.S. citizen — was an accomplished heavyweight boxer, Tsarnaeva said. He had been working at various stores and delivering pizzas, she said.
He was very athletic and smart but “seemingly did not find himself yet in America,” she said. Tamerlan was the favourite nephew of his uncle Ruslan Tsarni, who lives in Maryland and had high expectations for him, she said.
“He knew he was smart,” Tsarnaeva said. “He knows (Tamerlan) could use his potential. Then when he found out that he dropped out of university, Ruslan was desperate.”
Tsarni called his nephews “losers,” saying they had struggled to settle themselves in the U.S. and ended up “thereby just hating everyone.” He pleaded on live television Friday: “Dzhokhar, if you are alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness.”
Some U.S. officials expressed concern Dzhokhar could be headed for Canada.
“The Canadian border is not very far from Boston and the idea of them getting in a car and driving across the border into Canada is another flight risk that I would be very concerned about,” Homeland security committee chair Michael McCaul told CNN.
Canada Border Services Agency said Friday it is on a heightened state of alert as a result of the manhunt in Boston.
The agency said it has “taken a wide range of measures to increase vigilance” and conduct risk assessements of people and goods crossing the border.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking Friday in Brantford, Ont., said Canada stands ready to assist U.S. authorities.
“Let me congratulate American authorities for their rapid action that is obviously leading us towards a conclusion of these terrible events,” he said.
“And let me repeat just one more time our condolences to all the friends and family of the victims. I do note that unfortunately there was one additional victim overnight.”
— with files from Will Campbell in Brantford, Ont and The Associated Press.