BOSTON — One is a scholarship winner described by his father as an angel. The other was a boxer who once said: “I like the USA.”
The suspects in the attack on the Boston Marathon — one killed, one on the loose — are brothers with a background in the separatist Russian republic of Chechnya, at least one a legal permanent resident of the United States, law enforcement officials told NBC News.
While authorities were not sure of a motive, NBC News learned that counterterrorism officials were examining possible links between the Boston bombers and the Islamic Jihad Union of central Asia. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim.
“Somebody radicalized them, but it wasn’t my brother,” the men’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told reporters Friday from Montgomery Village, Md. He encouraged his nephew to turn himself in and said the two had brought shame on Chechens. He said that he had encouraged his own family to stay away from that part of the family.
“What I think was behind it: Being losers,” he said. “Of course we’re ashamed.”
The suspect at large early Friday was identified Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, born in Kyrgyzstan, holding a Massachusetts driver’s license and living in the Boston suburb of Cambridge. He was the suspect in the white hat in surveillance photos from the marathon released by the FBI.
His father, speaking from Russia, told The Associated Press that he was “a true angel” with an interest in medicine. He was registered as a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the school said. He was awarded a $2,500 city scholarship toward college two years ago.
Sierra Schwartz, who identified herself as a high school friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, told NBC News that he had lots of friends and did not seem to brood.
A tense night of police activity that left a university officer dead on campus just days after the Boston Marathon bombings and amid a hunt for two suspects caused officers to converge on a neighborhood outside Boston, where residents heard gunfire and explosions.
“He was a nice guy. He was shy,” she said. “It was almost physically painful to even call him nice now after this absolute tragedy that happened, but at the time, as we knew him, he was funny.”
Robin Young, who said her nephew was on the wrestling team with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, told NBC News that he was “just a light, airy, curly-haired kid.”
“I can’t tell you enough what a beautiful young man this was,” she said.
The city of Cambridge awarded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the scholarship in 2011, according to The Boston Globe. The scholarships were for students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, part of the Cambridge public school system.
Cambridge is a melting-pot city of about 100,000, fairly well-off and home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s brother, who was killed in a firefight with law enforcement, was identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, born in Russia. He became a legal permanent resident in 2007, the officials said. He was the suspect in the black hat in the FBI photos.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev studied at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and wanted to become an engineer, according to a profile that appeared in a Boston University magazine in 2010. He said that he hoped to become an American citizen and one day join the U.S. Olympic boxing team.
He told the magazine that his family fled Chechnya in the 1990s because of the conflict there, and that he lived in Kazakhstan. While he had been in the United States for several years by that point, he said in the profile: “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.”
He also said that he was a Muslim who did not smoke or drink.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev boxed in a 2004 tournament as part of a program called Golden Gloves, according to The Lowell Sun newspaper. He told the newspaper then: “I like the USA.”
He said that his first love was music, and that he played the piano and violin.
“America has a lot of jobs,” he said. “That’s something Russia doesn’t have. You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work.”