Tsarnaev: Terrorism expert links Tsarnaev’s message in the boat to al Qaeda produced files on Tsarnaev’s computer

The prosecution entered the homestretch of its case today against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by calling Dr. Matthew Levitt to the stand. Levitt, who claims to be an expert on Islamist terrorism, is a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He also is a professor and lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Levitt testified that al Qaeda initially encouraged people to travel to the mideast and join their organization to fight U.S. oppression of Muslims. Later, they reached out to those who could not travel to the mideast and encouraged them to join the cause by fighting at home. Death in service to Allah and Islam is good, if you do your jihad with “true intention” to get entry into highest levels of heaven, according to Anwar al Awlaki.

An example of fighting at home is provided by an article in Inspire, which had been downloaded to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s computer. The article provides instructions on how to make a bomb out of ordinary stuff in your mother’s kitchen. They detail how to build a pressure cooker bomb just like the ones the Tsarnaev brothers used.

Dr. Levitt also reviewed and sourced the statements that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote on the wall of the boat to al Qaeda produced documents and audio files on his computer. Court recessed for the day before Dr. Levitt completed his testimony sourcing Tsarnaev’s note.

Not a good day for the defense.

Nevertheless, serious questions exist about the legitimacy of so-called terrorism experts, as this article in Salon explains.

Dr. Levitt finished testifying this morning. He admitted that someone could have put the content on his devices and also have harangued him and contributed to his radicalization.

That person would have been his brother, Tamerlan.

The cross of Dr. Levitt by David Bruck made these points that are relevant to Dzhokhar’s lesser role in the offense.

Bruck: you said there always has to be a “radicalizer” who encourages someone?

Levitt: yes, often a virtual one, online.

B: You weren’t asked to find a radicalizer in this case?

L: No.

B: You analyzed only the info you were given from #Tsarnaev’s drives? L: Yes

Bruck: your understanding was that you were to focus on the defendant and no one else?

Levitt: He’s the one on trial.

23 Responses to Tsarnaev: Terrorism expert links Tsarnaev’s message in the boat to al Qaeda produced files on Tsarnaev’s computer

  1. girlp says:

    The government did not want to remove the possibility of a death sentence so they did not accept what the defense offered.


  2. Malisha, I agree. The desire of the defense for a deal, if possible, came out pretty clearly in some pretrial filings where it was stated that no trial would be necessary if the government wasn’t insisting on seeking the death penalty. That statement invites a pretty clear inference.

  3. First, I must agree that the government is offering a fine performance at connecting the dots and demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt that, as Judy Clarke declared in her opening statement, “it was him.”

    The question of a “bomb drill” at the marathon is something I’ve heard raised at various times, and it’s a hypothesis I’d like to see specifically foreclosed. However, at this point, the government’s evidence seems quite persuasive, especially the connections to the carjacking and the pressure cooker bomb explosion in Watertown. If the brothers were only participants in an intended “bomb drill,” why would they possess and detonate bombs like the ones set off at the marathon?

    If we take guilt as proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then it’s clear that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is, judged from his own perspective, a war criminal, because participants and spectators at a marathon are not legitimate military targets, even accepting his thesis of a just war (a doctrine by no means specific to Islam — with some Muslims indeed holding that jihad in the external or social sense (the “Lesser Jihad”) can and should be waged by nonviolent means, with the “Greater Jihad” a struggle against the evil or imperfection within oneself).

    How about executing Harry Truman, William Calley, or the soldiers who confessed to homicidal acts of unlawful violence against innocent Vietnamese civilians during the Winter Soldier investigations?

    Targeting the Aioi Bridge in downtown Hiroshima — not some isolated military installation — had exactly the same purpose as the brothers’ choice of Boylston Street in Boston during the marathon: maximum shock, awe, and civilian casualties. And a search of the “files” in the possession of President Truman and his associates — physical files rather than computer files in those days — would reveal propaganda about hating and dehumanizing, not the Japanese warlords, but the Japanese people as a whole. It would be hard for Anwar al-Awlaki to outdo that (not that some Japanese views of other nations, including some other Asian nations, were necessarily more laudible).

    Of course, Jahar has to be held accountable — and to accomplish that, no trial was necessary. A plea would have done it: life without parole in a supermax for a young defendant.

    Various recent international tribunals on war crimes, and also the International Criminal Court under the Statute of Rome, have excluded the death penalty even in cases of war crimes and genocide. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s crimes should be viewed against that backdrop of moral sanity.

    Imprisoning Jahar will serve the purposes of incapacitation (preventing him from repeating his crime); deterrence (discouraging others, at least those who can be deterred by the prospect of punishment); retribution (a recognition that killing innocent civilians is one of the gravest wrongs a human being can commit, with proportionate punishment); and, hopefully, rehabilitation (even in prison, Jahar can make a contribution to society).

    Killing him — hardly a deterrent to those seeking martyrdom — seems a move out of the ISIL book, rather than that of the civilized world which has given us those international tribunals and the International Criminal Court.

    One of the most powerful weapons against terrorism may be a distrust of unnecessary violence, including the gratuitous violence of an execution, when imprisoning Jahar will at once express our outrage at his conduct and our determination not to join him in unnecessary killing.

    • Diamonique says:

      I seem to remember awhile back that he was offered a plea deal but wouldn’t take it. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong about that.

    • Two sides to a story says:

      “One of the most powerful weapons against terrorism may be a distrust of unnecessary violence, including the gratuitous violence of an execution, when imprisoning Jahar will at once express our outrage at his conduct and our determination not to join him in unnecessary killing.”

      Great post.

  4. Two sides to a story says:

    Professor, what do you think of Jim Fetzer’s arguments that it was FBI backpacks and not the Tsarnaevs’ that held pressure cooker bombs? Sounds like a pretty cuckoo belief in light of all the evidence.


    • Malisha says:

      I frankly cannot imagine Judy Clarke would take part in railroading an innocent man. That fact alone makes me think that the conspiracy theory is not worth wracking my brain over. If there was a chance Tsarnaev had not done what he admitted, through counsel, Judy Clarke would have fought it right down to the wire to get him acquitted.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        I agree – was surprised at the attack on Judy Clarke. Though I have seen some other rundowns on the backpack thing that seemed valid.

    • gblock says:

      I might be willing to entertain a claim that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not actually involved, that someone else planted the bombs. (Although in this case, he seems to have said that he was involved.) But claiming that the Boston Marathon bombing and Sandy Hook never really happened is not only cuckoo, but it’s a slap in the face to the victims and their families.

      • I agree and their crazy theories are extremely offensive.

        • Two sides to a story says:

          Of course the denial that these two events killed anyone is completely absurd. But why were there intel-government exercises of some sort or another during Sandy Hook, Boston Marathon, 9-11? Or is that also a figment of someone’s crazy imagination?

          • Even if there were drills, which I seriously doubt, I don’t believe they had anything to do with the Tsarnaev brothers, or Dzhokhar would have written that on the wall of the boat.

  5. gblock says:

    Do you have reason to doubt the legitimacy of this particular expert? And if so, is there much of a chance of the defense being able to successfully tap into this issue, given that what he said feeds into what a lot of Americans choose to believe?

    • Malisha says:

      To me, the expertise is almost irrelevant. It’s standard Jihadist crap, what was written in the boat; it doesn’t take either a rocket scientist OR a “terrorism expert” to inform us that martyring oneself for Allah and getting to Heaven in Glory is garden variety transnational Islamist terrorist gobbledygook and brainglue.

  6. Malisha says:

    About the terrorism expert, and the radicalization, this is a very perplexing and vexing issue. I have listened to several radio talks about the young people who go from various countries in the West (usually young people from the upper-middle classes) to the Middle East to take part in various Islamist conflicts. And I saw a prosecution of an American teen (over 18) who had tried (unsuccessfully) to become a Jihadist (he was not accepted by the Islamist gang he was trying to join!). What I saw and heard was a phenomenon: young men (and a few young women) who felt abused and put upon, felt overly controlled and pressured, and who felt unable to express themselves. Some of the young people who get “radicalized” are just filled with rage and then charismatic types come along to galvanize and direct that rage; it’s too easy.

    Was the older brother the agent of his “radicalization”? Who was he before the “radicalization” made him who he was when he made the bomb? Does it matter?

    Whether the “experts” have any expertise or not, it is clear that a cold-blooded killing, when the killer does not even know the identity of his victims, must be motivated by some kind of gross mental disturbance, but in the context of society’s response to violence (and, in particular, to murder), what is the relevance of the path a person took to arrive at the place where they chose to destroy unknown human beings for their own emotional enhancement?

  7. Judicial student says:

    I’m undecided whether Tsarnaev should get the death penalty or spend the next 80 years in a 12×7 cell at the Supermax in Florence, Colorado. That really seems to be the only issue at this trial.

  8. Two sides to a story says:

    OT – Fogen rides again. As if he hasn’t told us enough that killing Trayvon was God’s plan and that everyone has done him wrong. Now he blames Obama for his troubles.


    • Malisha says:

      About Fogen: He’s ready to go on the campaign trail for the Repugnican of his choice to show his disdain for Obama. He’s just ramping up. HE’ll show Taaffee who knows how to grab the cameras. Also, he will make some more money from his cheerleader racists. Who knows, he may even get another drunk racist trashy female groupie on the campaign trail.

    • gblock says:

      Zimmerman’s conscience is clear because he doesn’t have one.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        True that. But though a narcissist generally has not much of a conscience, they absolutely cannot stand to feel public disapproval, and why he’s constantly coming back into the public eye. Any normal person, whether guilty or innocent, would keep a low profile and avoid publicity.

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