Did Tamerlan Tsarnaev Pressure His Younger Brother Into Terrorism?

A fuller portrait of the two brothers suspected of being behind the Boston Marathon bombings is beginning to emerge, and with it a seeming disparity in their attitudes and demeanors.

The younger Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is now in the custody of authorities after being found hiding in a boat in Watertown Friday night, was described by friends and relatives as an outgoing, smart teenager, who was a wrestling team captain and would smoke weed and go to parties. The older Tamerlan, on the other hand, was having trouble securing citizenship and had begun to delve more into religion and shown signs, at least on the Internet, of being interested in extremism.

Larry Aaronson, who taught Dzhokhar in high school, told the Boston Globe that,"If someone were to ask me what this kid is like, I would say that he had a heart of gold. He was as gracious as possible … This is all surreal to me."

Dzhokhar attended his senior prom two years ago, and on September 11th, 2012, became a U.S. citizen. After starting at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, however, his grades began to fall, and a transcript shows that he had failed several classes. Still, a classmate at the University said that Dzhokhar had a group of friends and was well-liked. "He was talking about how he wasn't doing as good as he expected," the classmate told the New York Times. "He was a really smart kid, but having a little difficulty in college because going from high school to college is totally different."

Dzhokhar reportedly even left UMass-Boston before ever taking a class there to apparently "follow the parties." Yushun Tsou, a high school friend of Dzhokhar's, told TPM that, "When I spoke with him, he was interested in switching to UMass Dartmouth just because he was interested in following parties."

Tamerlan had a green card, but his father claims that his attempts at becoming a citizen were being blocked by a domestic violence charge against his girlfriend. An accomplished boxer, Tamerlan had recently spent several months in Russia living with his father, before returning to the United States. Neighbors, family, and friends described Tamerlan as growing both moodier and more religious.

The Boston Globe writes,

A neighbor and family friend in Cambridge said Tamerlan became a devout Muslim within the past few years.

"He started talking about religion," said the family friend, who asked not to be identified. "He grew a long beard."

The friend said Tamerlan urged him to be more observant, asking, "Why don't you become a better Muslim? Why don't you pray, why don't you do your Islamic duties?"

When the friend joked about the beard, he said, Tamerlan became upset, asking "Why are you making fun of my religion?"

Tamerlan's life was also darkened by the murder of Brendan Mess, whom he described as his "best friend" to a local gym owner. The Globe reports that "Two years ago, Mess and two other men were brutally killed in a Waltham apartment where they were found by police with their throats slit and their bodies covered with marijuana. The murders remain unsolved."

The father of the Tsarnaev brothers remains suspicious that his children were behind the bombings, especially the younger Dzhokhar, who he described to the Times as "an angel,"

"He has the character of the best person who could exist. Anyone who sees him falls in love with him. Dzhokhar, he is a gift from Allah, not just because he is my son - he is like an angel, this child. The Americans know him better than I do. They taught him. He was in the newspapers everywhere: he was excellent, good, kind. He worked all the time. In his extra moments, he worked so that things would not be difficult for us, his parents. He didn't keep a penny for himself. This kind of child. You understand."

He said that his older son, Tamerlan, was also a kind man, and does not believe he would have pressured Dzhokhar into committing the bombings:

"Dzhokhar listened to Tamerlan, of course. He also listened to us. From childhood, it was that way. He had his own head on his shoulders. He was a very gifted person. He had a gift of kindness, calmness, fairness, you understand, goodness? For him to do what they're saying, it doesn't fit him at all, it is not possible. Not at all."

The question, especially now that it appears that Dzhokhar will survive his injuries and stand trial, is how much influence and pressure did Tamerlan exert? Was there a moment when Dzhokhar could have stood up against him, or was he complicit in the plan the entire time? The FBI questioned Tamerlan themselves in 2011 about his ties to radicalism, but found no proof of it. Dzhokhar, on the other hand, gave very little sign he was interested in this type of violence. Still, he is alleged of leaving a bomb that killed three people and hurt dozens others, shooting and killing a police officer, and wounding another. How much pressure can a brother exert?