Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Suspects' mother said 9/11 a U.S. plot

Became increasingly devoted to religion

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BOSTON -- In photos of her as a younger woman, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva wears a low-cut blouse and has her hair teased like a 1980s rock star. After she arrived in the U.S. from Russia in 2002, she went to beauty school and did facials at a suburban day spa.

But in recent years, people noticed a change. She began wearing a hijab and cited conspiracy theories about 9/11 being a plot against Muslims.

Now known as the angry and grieving mother of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Tsarnaeva is drawing increased attention after U.S. officials say Russian authorities intercepted her phone calls, including one in which she vaguely discussed jihad with her elder son.

Tsarnaeva insists she's no terrorist, just someone who found a deeper spirituality. She insists her sons -- Tamerlan, who was killed in a gunfight with police, and Dzhokhar, who was wounded and captured -- are innocent.

"It's all lies and hypocrisy," she told The Associated Press in Dagestan. "I'm sick and tired of all this nonsense that they make up about me and my children. People know me as a regular person and I've never been mixed up in any criminal intentions, especially any linked to terrorism."

Amid the scrutiny, Tsarnaeva and her ex-husband, Anzor Tsarnaev, say they have put off the idea of any trip to the U.S. to reclaim their elder son's body or try to visit Dzhokhar in jail.

Tsarnaeva arrived in the U.S. in 2002, settling in a working-class section of Cambridge, Mass. With four children, Anzor and Zubeidat qualified for food stamps and were on and off public-assistance benefits for years.

Tsarnaeva became a state-licensed esthetician. Anzor, who had studied law, fixed cars.

By some accounts, the family was tolerant.

Bethany Smith, a New Yorker who befriended Tsarnaeva's two daughters, told Newsday when she stayed with the family for a month in 2008 while she looked at colleges, she was welcomed even though she was Christian and had tattoos.

"I had nothing but love over there. They accepted me for who I was," Smith said. "Their mother, Zubeidat, she considered me to be a part of the family. She called me her third daughter."

Tsarnaeva said she and Tamerlan began to turn more deeply into their Muslim faith about five years ago after being influenced by a family friend, named "Misha." The man, whose full name she didn't reveal, impressed her with a religious devotion that was far greater than her own, even though he was an ethnic Armenian who converted to Islam. "I wasn't praying until he prayed in our house, so I just got really ashamed that I am not praying, being a Muslim, being born Muslim. I am not praying. Misha, who converted, was praying," she said.

By then, she had left her job at the day spa and was giving facials in her apartment. One client, Alyssa Kilzer, noticed the change when Tsarnaeva put on a head scarf before leaving the apartment.

"She had never worn a hijab while working at the spa previously, or inside the house, and I was really surprised," Kilzer wrote on her blog.

Kilzer wrote she stopped visiting the home in late 2011 or early 2012 when, during one session, she "started quoting a conspiracy theory, telling me that she thought 9/11 was purposefully created by the American government to make America hate Muslims."

"It's real," Tsarnaeva said, according to Kilzer. "My son knows all about it. You can read on the Internet."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2013 A10

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