Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother implicated in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, has been charged with using weapons of mass destruction to kill people, a federal crime which is punishable by death, the Justice Department said.
The Justice Department said on Monday that 19-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev had been charged with one count of using a weapon of mass destruction and one count of malicious destruction of property resulting in death.
The charges are punishable by death, life in prison, or any other indeterminate prison sentence, the department said in a statement.
According to the affidavit of Special Agent Daniel R. Genck, a Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles photograph of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev bears a “close physical resemblance” to video images of “Bomber Two,” who was seen near the Boston Marathon Finishing line at the time of the attack.
The agent continues that the footage reveals the suspect using a cellphone after setting down a knapsack near the blast site.
“Approximately 30 seconds before the first explosion, he lifts his phone to his ear as if he is speaking on his cell phone, and keeps it there for approximately 18 seconds. A few seconds after he finishes the call, the large crowd of people around him can be seen reacting to the first explosion.”
The complaint does not elaborate whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly used his cellphone to detonate the explosive device, though it describes as “calm” as those around him are in a state of “bewilderment and alarm.”
Tsarnaev, a naturalized US citizen of Chechen origin who remains hospitalized after sustaining serious injures during the course of his arrest, agreed to “voluntary detention,” but declined to answer questions regarding bail, the court record reads. A probable cause hearing – the preliminary hearing which usually takes place before arraignment and before a major crime goes to trial – was set for May 30.
“Although our investigation is ongoing, today’s charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston, and for our country,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “We will hold those who are responsible for these heinous acts accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued.
On Monday, the White House announced that the surviving brother implicated in the deadly Boston Marathon bombing will not be tried as an enemy combatant, but will rather be prosecuted in the federal court system.
“He will not be treated as an enemy combatant,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney said a media briefing. “We will process this terrorist through our system of justice,” he said.
Noting that other terrorists had been tried and convicted in federal court, Carny stressed: “The system has repeatedly proven that it can successfully handle the threat that we continue to face.”
He continued that as a naturalized US citizen, Tsarnaev cannot be tried before a military commission. Carny added that US President Barack Obama has been and will continue to be updated regularly on the progress of the investigation.
Tsarnaev is being represented by three attorneys from the federal public defender’s office.
Following his arraignment, it was earlier reported that Tsarnaev is now awake and responding to investigators’ questions in writing, a law enforcement official not authorized to comment on the matter said.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “substantive” information had been collected during the course of questioning, though he declined to elaborate further, the Detroit Free Press cites him as saying. He further said the neck wounds Tsarnaev sustained may have been self-inflicted, based on the positioning of the entry wound and exit wound.
According to the unsealed indictment, Tsarnaev further suffered gunshot wounds to the head, legs and hand.
The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group – a multi-security agency unit tasked with interrogating high-value suspects – had previously been unable to question Tsarnaev following his capture on Friday night due to the extent of his injuries. A primary goal of investigators is to determine if the brothers acted alone and whether there are any unexploded bombs yet to be accounted for.
Previously, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino expressed his doubts the brothers were part of a larger terror network.
“All of the information that I have, they acted alone, these two individuals, the brothers,” he said on ABC News’s ‘This Week’.
Menino had also stated that due the extent of Dzhokhar’s injuries, “we don’t know if we’ll ever be able to question the individual.”
Ruslan Tsarni, an uncle of the accused and his late brother and co-suspect Tamerlan, told the Associated Press that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been “used” by his older brother to carry out the bombing. “He’s not been understanding anything,” Tsarni said. “He’s a 19-year-old boy.”