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Boston suspects’ family story a portrait of faded American dream



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At Cambridge Rindge & Latin, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was just Jahar — phonetically simpler, cooler, more in keeping with his new American persona.

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Jahar was 16 and learning to drive. He lusted after a blond classmate, and he would eventually boast to friends that he had made progress on that front. He studied just enough to fend off his parents, who by late in junior year were pressuring him to get organized with his college applications.

Jahar instead put his energies into wrestling, becoming co-captain of the Cambridge team. Late at night, Jahar was also increasingly fond of other teenage rites: alcohol and marijuana. Friends said Jahar’s nights were spent blaring the rap of Drake and French Montana and driving around to quiet spots where the boys would roll blunts, laugh and talk about sex.

"We smoked," said Peter Tenzin, Jahar’s wrestling co-captain during senior year. "Ninety-five percent of our school smoked. People are looking down on that about him, but that’s what we did."

When Tenzin, now in college, thinks of Jahar, his mind fills with images of those long nights and so many fits of uncontrollable laughter.

"Jahar was a joker," Tenzin said. Friends would tease Jahar, telling him that, given his smoking and drinking, some recent converts to Islam in his class were more Muslim than he was.

"He’d come back with a joke about blacks or Asians," Tenzin said. "You have to understand — identity is always an issue in Cambridge."

When Jahar got his license, he would be seen around town in a refurbished green Honda Civic with signs of a hasty paint job. He drove with the windows down, even in the New England winter, music blaring, seat tilted way back.


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If Jahar was not as studious as his parents wanted him to be, Tamerlan was the cause of more serious worries. His mother feared he was losing his way. In 2006, he started taking classes at Bunker Hill Community College, but over the next three years, he seemed more devoted to partying than studying.

Zubeidat said she began to encourage her older son — who would come in late at night from parties smelling of smoke and alcohol — to take more of an interest in religion to give his life a healthier core. The two, mother and son, began to study the Koran together.

In 2009, Uncle Ruslan heard that Tamerlan was no longer applying himself — academically or with work. Ruslan called his nephew, and the conversation quickly grew tense.

"What’s up with you?" Ruslan recalled asking.

Tamerlan responded in religious phrases, speaking about following God’s will. "Inshallah," he kept saying. "God willing." To Ruslan, the term seemed superficial, as if his nephew were reciting something learned by rote.

"It’s very simple," Ruslan told Tamerlan. "To be a good Muslim, start being useful to yourself" and your family.

"No, you’re forgetting about what is most important," Tamerlan replied. "The will of God."

Another uncle, Alvi Tsarni, who also lives in Montgomery County, Md., heard about the tension between Tamerlan and Ruslan and called his nephew. "Why are you doing this?" Alvi asked. "Your uncle is always helping you." Tamerlan responded aggressively, challenged Alvi to come to Massachusetts and said, "If you’re so brave, we will fight."

"Tamerlan, you’re nobody to me from now on," Alvi replied.

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