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July 10, 2013

Accused Boston Marathon Bomber Pleads Not Guilty

by Jim Malone

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has pleaded not guilty to 30 criminal counts in connection with the April 15 attack that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.

Under heavy security, 19-year-old Tsarnaev appeared in a federal court in Boston and entered a plea of not guilty to charges that include using a weapon of mass destruction to kill.

Authorities say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, detonated two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and then escaped.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with authorities three days later, after allegedly killing a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was later found hiding in a boat in Watertown where the shootout took place.

Federal prosecutors must decide whether to seek the death penalty for Tsarnaev. Of the 30 charges he faces, 17 carry either the death penalty or life in prison if he is convicted.

No trial date has been set as yet. Relatives of some of the bombing victims attended Wednesday’s court session.

Even as Tsarnaev was arraigned in Boston, two congressional committees focused on the lessons from the marathon bombings for law enforcement.

The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, said there was a breakdown in communication between federal law enforcement authorities and local police in the months prior to the bombing about a visit Tamerlan Tsarnaev made to Russia.

“They show that when agencies fail to share critical information about terrorists, they fail to see the full picture, which could point to an imminent attack,” he said.

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the United States must adapt its counterterrorism techniques to account for a growing number of attacks carried out by lone individuals.

“They are more difficult to detect because they engage in many fewer electronic wire communications with organizations that we have under physical or technological surveillance or that we have infiltrated with undercover agents,” he said.

Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told lawmakers that al-Qaida remains a potent threat despite U.S. successes in recent years.

“While Osama bin Laden’s death inflicted a crushing blow on al-Qaida, it is still not clear that it has necessarily been a fatal one. Today al-Qaida is arguably situated in more places than it was on September 11, 2001,” said Hoffman.

Tsarnaev’s court appearance was his first in public since he was arrested April 19.