Three years ago, al-Qaida's magazine, Inspire, published an article titled, "Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom." The article explained how to build a pressure-cooker device like the ones that blew up last week at the Boston Marathon.
But the recipe left out the most important ingredient. To make a bomb in your mom's kitchen, the first thing you need is an inattentive mom.
That's what Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had. We don't yet know where or when they made the bombs they're accused of planting at the marathon. But we do know that their father, Anzor Tsarnaev, and their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, had plenty of warnings that Tamerlan was becoming dangerous. Tamerlan was a human pressure cooker loaded with zeal, violence and destructive ideology. His parents, blinded by adoration and excuses, refused to see it.
Most people who met or knew Tamerlan, including family members, say he was a jerk. His dad, however, insists Tamerlan was "kind" and "very nice." Anzor "lost control over that family quite a time ago," says his brother Ruslan. In every interview, Anzor claims to know exactly what his kids have been up to, though he hasn't seen them since he moved back to Dagestan a year ago. He also claims, falsely, that Tamerlan "was never out of my sight" during the young man's visit to Dagestan last year.
According to Anzor, Tamerlan was such a boxing stud that "in the U.S. everyone knows he is a celebrity." When Anzor left Boston, he asked Tamerlan to keep an eye on Dzhokhar. He thinks the elder brother has been keeping the younger one away from bad influences.
Tamerlan's mother is just as deluded. She swears Tamerlan and Dzhokhar couldn't be involved in a bomb plot because "my sons would never keep a secret." Instead of correcting Tamerlan's conspiracy theories, she swallowed them. According to one of her spa clients, Zubeidat recently called the 9/11 attacks a U.S. plot to stoke hatred of Muslims. "My son knows all about it," she allegedly told the client.
Anzor and Zubeidat were given several warnings that Tamerlan was headed for trouble. Sometime between 2007 and 2009, Tamerlan and Zubeidat turned to religion. Zubeidat became observant, but Tamerlan became intolerant and hostile. He pushed his strict views on the family, causing tensions.
The tension exploded when Tamerlan, in a conversation during that period, called Ruslan, his uncle, an "infidel." Tamerlan challenged another uncle to a fight. No one in the family has explained what words ensued between the parents and the uncles, but both uncles cut off contact with the Tsarnaevs.
Ruslan says his beef was with "the way they were bringing the children up." Anzor, unchastened even by the marathon bombings, says the uncles don't really know his kids.
In early 2011, two FBI agents, provoked by an alert from Russian intelligence, came to the Tsarnaevs' apartment to speak to the family about Tamerlan. Zubeidat says the agents explained that Tamerlan was visiting "extremist sites" and that "they were afraid of him." She says Tamerlan answered the agents defiantly, "I am in a country that gives me the right to read whatever I want and watch whatever I want."
Anzor shrugged off the warning: "I knew what he was doing, where he was going. I raised my children right." Zubeidat says the agents investigated Tamerlan only because "he loved Islam."
So the warnings passed. When the marathon bombs exploded, and videos implicated Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, the uncles acknowledged the evidence, but the parents didn't. They didn't just stammer, as many parents would, that their sons couldn't have done it. They declared that the young men had been "set up."
When family members are repeatedly exposed to signs that a loved one is drifting into the vortex of violent extremism, they have a duty to intervene, or at least to alert someone. If they don't, and the fanatic becomes a killer, they bear an awful responsibility.
If they deny that responsibility by accusing the police and government of anti-Islamic conspiracies, they forfeit our sympathy, our respect and our trust.
© 2013 Slate