WATERTOWN, Mass. — Gunfire erupted Friday night amid the manhunt for the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, and police in armored vehicles and tactical gear rushed into a Boston suburb in a possible break in the case.
The suspected bomber, identified by law-enforcement officials as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, of Cambridge, MA, was believed cornered in a boat in a backyard in Watertown.
The burst of activity in Watertown came at the end of a tense day in and around Boston, and less than an hour after police announced that they were scaling back the hunt because they had come up empty-handed after an all-day search that sent thousands of SWAT team officers into the streets and paralyzed the metropolitan area.
The night before, two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing killed an MIT police officer, injured a transit officer in a firefight, and threw explosive devices at police during their getaway attempt in a long night of violence that left one of them dead and another still at large.
Fox News reported that the police had zeroed in on the suspect’s house, and that shots were heard several times. Correspondents could not confirm if live fire or rubber bullets were heard, as the Boston suburb of Watertown remained on lockdown during the standoff. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on Friday evening ended the stay-at-home advisory, but warned residents to “remain vigilant.” Public transportation resumed ordinary service.
State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben said Tsarnaev fled the scene of the shooting on foot and called on the suspect to turn himself in.
National Guard helicopters and bomb squads also landed near the scene of the standoff to help SWAT teams in their search for the suspect. Police were scouring the Watertown neighborhood, going door to door, and said they were constantly responding to new leads in their effort to find the suspect.
Authorities had interrogated the brothers’ uncle in Maryland — who called on his nephew to turn himself in. The suspect’s sister, who reportedly lives in the town of West New York in New Jersey, was also being questioned by investigators. Officials believe the suspect has a second sister in the US.
News crews, perched outside the area that was blocked off by police, said they still weren’t sure if the suspect had been caught or not. Also, a bullet-ridden vehicle that authorities believe the brothers were driving when they shot the MIT officer was being examined for further clues.
The suspects were identified to The Associated Press as coming from the Russian region near Chechnya, which has been plagued by an Islamic insurgency stemming from separatist wars.
Two students who were classmates of the younger Tsarnaev described him as a quiet, normal “good” kid to Fox News.
A man who was held up by the brothers early Friday morning told The Washington Post that the two men had bragged to him that they were the Boston Marathon Bombers. Police believe the brothers held up the man either right before or right after killing the MIT officer, and that their stops at several ATMs with that man provided them with a critical piece of information in their pursuit.
His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shootout with police Friday morning. During the intense fight, Dzhokhar managed to escape. Police said the two brothers threw I.E.D.’s at them, adding that security officials hadn’t called in professional units to dismantle what they believed were home-made explosive devices yet, because they were focusing on finding Tsarnaev first.
Police then said at a press conference that the I.E.D.’s would be exploded shortly. They have since brought in specialized units and performed a “controlled explosion” on the I.E.D.’s to ensure the safety of the officers.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was 26-years-old and was said to have been the mastermind behind the operation. He had been an amateur boxer and was hopeful of making it to the Olympics.
National security officials in Washington, D.C. were coordinating with Boston police and FBI members to try to get a better picture of what drove the two suspects to carry out the bombing. US President Barack Obama was briefed for over an hour by the FBI and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Authorities claimed that the two men were Muslims who may have been exposed to homegrown radical influences. Officials in Boston and Washington, D.C. were trying to figure out if the brothers received support from overseas or from within the US.
Officials said they had pieced together a few more clues about the brothers, leading them to fear that the bombers didn’t act alone, and that they had quite likely received help or training from outside the US.
Steve Emerson, a national security expert, said that an analysis of the elder brother Tamerlan’s Facebook page as well as some of his social media posts indicated an affinity for al-Qaeda. One video he posted showed an al-Qaeda flag, and in another one, he mentioned his support for Hezb e-Tahrir, a radical group that believes in establishing an Islamic caliphate around the world.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Dzhokhar told friends he was upset when the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, two Muslim-majority countries.
Also, the fighters who come from the North Caucasus region where Chechnya sits are considered part of the jihadi network, a former CIA operative explained on Fox News. “For example, Saudi Arabia has pumped a lot of money into training camps there,” the analyst said. He noted that Tamerlan’s travel records revealed that he had recently spent six months in Russia, intimating that he could have frequented one of the breakaway Muslim republics for jihadi training.
The elder Tsarnaev was believed to have become an increasingly devout Muslim. He reportedly prayed five times a day, and possibly drew his younger brother, the suspect at large, Dzhokhar, into the orbit of radical Islamic groups.
Two law enforcement officials told the AP that the Tsarnaevs had been living legally in the US for at least one year. They had immigrated to the US from Chechnya under an American asylum program.
University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth confirmed Friday that one of the suspects was currently enrolled at its institution.
Several local news sources in Boston reported that a third man had been arrested.
In Boston, still on edge over the attack on the marathon, and its western suburbs, authorities suspended mass transit and urged people to stay indoors as they searched for the remaining suspect, a man seen wearing a white baseball cap on surveillance footage from Monday’s deadly bombing at the marathon finish line.
“We believe this man to be a terrorist,” said Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We believe this to be a man who’s come here to kill people.”
Authorities urged residents in Watertown, Newton, Arlington, Waltham, Belmont, Cambridge and the Allston-Brighton neighborhoods of Boston to stay indoors. At least a quarter of a million people live in those suburbs. All mass transit was shut down, and businesses were asked not to open Friday. People waiting at bus and subway stops were told to go home.
All modes of public transportation were shut down, including buses, subways, trolleys, commuter rail, and boats, said Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The suspects’ clashes with police began only a few hours after the FBI released photos and videos of the two young men, who were seen carrying backpacks as they mingled among marathon revelers. The bombings on Monday killed three people and wounded more than 180 others, and authorities revealed the images to enlist the public’s help finding the suspects.
The images released by the FBI depict two young men, each wearing a baseball cap, walking one behind the other near the marathon’s finish line. Richard DesLauriers, FBI agent in charge in Boston, said the suspect in the white hat (later identified as 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev) was seen setting down a bag at the site of the second of two deadly explosions.
Authorities said surveillance tape recorded late Thursday showed the suspect, known for his white hat, during a robbery of a convenience store in Cambridge, near the campus of MIT, where a university police officer was killed while responding to a report of a disturbance, said State Police Col Timothy Alben. The officer died of multiple gunshot wounds.
From there, authorities say, the two men carjacked a man in a Mercedes-Benz, keeping him with them in the car for half-an-hour before releasing him at a gas station in Cambridge. The man was not injured.
The search for the vehicle led to a chase that ended in Watertown, where authorities said the suspects threw explosive devices from the car and exchanged gunfire with police. A transit police officer was seriously injured during the chase, authorities said.
In Watertown, witnesses reported hearing multiple gunshots and explosions at about 1 a.m. Friday. Dozens of police officers and FBI agents were in the neighborhood and a helicopter circled overhead.
Watertown resident Christine Yajko said she was awakened at about 1:30 a.m. by a loud noise, began to walk to her kitchen and heard gunfire.
“I heard the explosion, so I stepped back from that area, then I went back out and heard a second one,” she said. “It was very loud. It shook the house a little.”
She said a police officer later knocked on her door and told her there was an undetonated improvised explosive device in the street and warned her to stay away from the windows.
“It was on the street, right near our kitchen window,” she said.
Yajko said she never saw the suspect who was on the loose and didn’t realize the violence was related to the marathon bombings until she turned on the TV and began watching what was happening outside her side door.
State police spokesman David Procopio said, “The incident in Watertown did involve what we believe to be explosive devices possibly, potentially, being used against the police officers.”
Boston cab driver Imran Saif said he was standing on a street corner at a police barricade across from a diner when he heard an explosion.
“I heard a loud boom and then a rapid succession of pop, pop, pop,” he said. “It sounded like automatic weapons. And then I heard the second explosion.”
He said he could smell something burning and advanced to check it out but area residents at their windows yelled at him, “Hey, it’s gunfire! Don’t go that way!”
Doctors at a Boston hospital, where a suspect in the marathon bombings was taken and later died, are saying they treated a man with a possible blast injury and multiple gunshot wounds.
MIT said, right after the 10:30 p.m. shooting, that police were sweeping the campus in Cambridge and urged people to remain indoors. They urged people urged to stay away from the Stata Center, a mixed-use building with faculty offices, classrooms and a common area.
The suspects’ images were released hours after President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attended an interfaith service in Boston to remember the dead and the wounded.
At the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Obama saluted the resolve of the people of Boston and mocked the bombers as “these small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build and think somehow that makes them important.”
“We will find you,” he warned.
In the past, insurgents from Chechnya and neighboring restive provinces in the Caucasus have been involved in terror attacks in Moscow and other places in Russia.
Those raids included a raid in Moscow in October 2002 in which a group of Chechen militants took 800 people hostage and held them for two days before special forces stormed the building, killing all 41 Chechen hostage-takers. Also killed were 129 hostages, mostly from effects of narcotic gas Russian forces used to subdue the attackers.
Chechen insurgents also launched a 2004 hostage-taking raid in the southern Russian town of Beslan, where they took hundreds of hostages. The siege ended in a bloodbath two days later, with more than 330 people, about half of them children, killed.
Insurgents from Chechnya and other regions also have launched a long series of bombings in Moscow and other cities in Russia. An explosion at the international arrivals hall at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January 2011 killed at least 31 people and wounded more than 140.