Another clue to the Tsarnaev brothers’ plot emerged on Tuesday when the Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks chain revealed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev purchased fireworks at one of their stores in Seabrook, New Hampshire, about an hour’s drive north of Boston. Tsarnaev bought two pyrotechnic devices from the store on February 6, which may mean the brothers were planning to attack the Boston Marathon for several months. “He came in and he asked the question that 90 percent of males ask when they walk into a fireworks store: ‘What’s the most powerful thing you’ve got?’” William Weimer, the company’s vice president, told the New York Times. Store records show Tsarnaev spent $200 and walked out with two “Lock and Load” kits, each containing 24 shells.
There’s debate about whether the fireworks could have yielded enough powder to produce the blasts that went off during the marathon, and Weimer suggested it would be easier to buy black powder from a gun store. “What my guess is, they purchased these products in early February, experimented with them and probably came to the conclusion that they couldn’t harvest enough powder to do what they wanted to do with them,” Weimer told the Boston Globe.
It’s also possible the fireworks were just one of the ingredients used in the bombs. The recipe for pressure-cooker bombs in Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language online magazine, suggests using a variety of explosives, including fireworks, gun powder, and match heads. There was speculation before the brothers’ photos were even released that Inspire’s infamous “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” article might have played a role in the attack, and according to law enforcement officials, Dzhokhar confirmed during questioning that they learned to make bombs from the magazine.
Investigators are still working to verify Dzhokhar’s claim that he and his brother had no ties to terrorist organizations, but a U.S. counter-terrorism source told NBC News that they’re increasingly confident that “nobody else was involved.” The source said Dzhokhar also explained he and his brother were motivated by their desire to defend Islam because of “the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
That claim was backed up by their sister’s ex-husband, Elmirza Khozhugov. The 26-year-old told the New York Times that Tamerlan was concerned about the wars in the Middle East and interested in conspiracy theories (though he made no mention of his mysterious red-bearded exorcist who reportedly sparked those interests). “[Tamerlan] was looking for connections between the wars in the Middle East and oppression of Muslim population around the globe,” Khozhugov wrote in an e-mail. “It was very hard to argue with him on themes somehow connected to religion. On the other hand, he did not hate Christians. He respected their faith. Never said anything bad about other religions. But he was angry that the world pictures Islam as a violent religion.”