The two men suspected of carrying out last week’s deadly Boston Marathon bombing decided after authorities identified them to drive to New York and set off additional explosives in Times Square, New York City officials said on Thursday.
Their plan unraveled only when they realized that a Mercedes sports-utility vehicle they had hijacked on April 18 three days after the bombing did not have enough gasoline for the journey, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
He said investigators learned of this plan while questioning the surviving suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in his hospital bed in Boston. He has been recovering from his wounds there since being captured on Friday night after an all-day manhunt that shut down much of Boston.
“Questioning of Dzhokhar revealed that he and his brother decided spontaneously on Times Square as a target,” Kelly said at a news conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “They would drive to Times Square that same night.
“That plan, however, fell apart when they realized that the vehicle that they hijacked was low on gas and ordered the driver to stop at a nearby gas station.”
At the time, the men still had six explosive devices, including a pressure-cooker bomb of the type used at the marathon and six pipe bombs, Kelly said.
When they stopped to fill up the vehicle, the driver of the car escaped. He alerted authorities and sparked a massive late-night car chase across the university town of Cambridge, where police said the brothers shot dead a Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus police officer.
Earlier on April 18, the FBI identified the ethnic Chechen brothers as suspects in the marathon finish line bombing that killed three people and injured 264 others, releasing pictures and video of them at the scene.
The chase ended in an extended gun battle in suburban Watertown in which the suspects threw improvised explosives at police. The older suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot and died of his wounds.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured the next night in Watertown, hiding in a boat parked in the backyard of a house. Tsarnaev was formally charged on Monday in the hospital with crimes that could carry the death penalty.
His lawyer, Miriam Conrad, declined to comment on Thursday on whether her client was still talking with investigators. He is recovering from gunshot wounds in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for holding and transporting suspects outside of prison, declined to comment on whether or when he might be moved from the hospital.
New York’s Times Square was the target of an attempted car bombing in May 2010. A Pakistan-born U.S. citizen was arrested, admitted to the plot and he is serving a life prison term.
PARENTS SAY SONS INNOCENT
Meanwhile, the father of the brothers said he planned to travel to the United States from Russia to bury his older son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a police shootout.
“I am going to the United States. I want to say that I am going there to see my son, to bury the older one. I don’t have any bad intentions. I don’t plan to blow up anything,” Anzor Tsarnaev told reporters in Makhachkala, the capital of Russia’s Dagestan region.
Anzor’s former wife, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, angrily denied that her son had any role in the attack and criticized police for shooting her 26-year-old son while apprehending him.
Tsarnaeva does not plan to accompany her former husband on his trip. One factor that may have influenced Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s decision not to travel with her former husband is an outstanding arrest warrant in Massachusetts.
A warrant for Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s arrest was issued on Oct. 25 after she failed to make a court appearance on shoplifting-related charges, according to Natick District Court Clerk Brian Kearney.
Tsarnaeva was arrested in June at a department store on suspicion of shoplifting $1,624 worth of women’s dresses, according to the Natick Police Department.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow, 24-year-old Katherine Russell, also has a criminal record. In 2007, shortly after graduating from high school, she was arrested for stealing five items valued at $67.00 from a store in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Russell’s lawyer, Amato DeLuca, said earlier this week that his client knew nothing about the Tsarnaev brothers’ activities and is assisting authorities.
In Washington, the focus remained on intelligence leading up to the Boston Marathon bombing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been on a federal database of potential terrorism suspects and the United States had twice been warned about him by Russian authorities. Congressional testimony earlier in the week had focused on whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation made mistakes in tracking the ethnic Chechen.
“We’re in the post-event witch hunt phase, which is predictable,” said James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, at a conference in Crystal City, Virginia. “I think it would be a real good idea to not hyperventilate for a while now until we actually get all the facts.”
In the most direct criticism of President Barack Obama’s security policies in the aftermath of the April 15 bombing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN he blamed the administration for failing to stop the attack.
“I just know the system is broken. The ultimate blame I think is with the administration,” the South Carolina senator said, linking the bombings with last year’s killing of a U.S. diplomat during an attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
“Between Benghazi and Boston, to me we’re going backwards, not forward, in terms of national security,” Graham said.