BOSTON (AP) — The angry and grieving mother of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects insists that her sons are innocent and that she’s no terrorist.
But Zubeidat Tsarnaeva is drawing increased attention after federal officials say Russian authorities intercepted her phone calls, including one in which she vaguely discussed jihad with her elder son. In another, she was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case, U.S. officials said.
In photos of her as a younger woman, Tsarnaeva wears a low-cut blouse and has her hair teased like a 1980s rock star. After she arrived in the U.S. from Russia in 2002, she went to beauty school and did facials at a suburban day spa.
But in recent years, people noticed a change. She began wearing a hijab and cited conspiracy theories about 9/11 being a plot against Muslims.
Tsarnaeva insists there is no mystery and that she’s just someone who found a deeper spirituality. She fiercely defends her sons — Tamerlan, who was killed in a gunfight with police, and Dzhokhar, who was wounded and captured.
“It’s all lies and hypocrisy,” she told The Associated Press in Dagestan. “I’m sick and tired of all this nonsense that they make up about me and my children. People know me as a regular person, and I’ve never been mixed up in any criminal intentions, especially any linked to terrorism.”
At a news conference in Dagestan with her ex-husband Anzor Tsarnaev last week, Tsarnaeva appeared overwhelmed with grief one moment, defiant the next. “They already are talking about that we are terrorists, I am terrorist,” she said. “They already want me, him and all of us to look (like) terrorists.”
Amid the scrutiny, Tsarnaeva and Anzor say they have put off the idea of any trip to the U.S. to reclaim their elder son’s body or try to visit Dzhokhar in jail. Tsarnaev told the AP on Sunday he was too ill to travel to the U.S. Tsarnaeva faces a 2012 shoplifting charge in a Boston suburb, though it was unclear whether that was a deterrent.
Tsarnaeva arrived in the U.S. in 2002, settling in a working-class section of Cambridge, Mass. With four children, Anzor and Zubeidat qualified for food stamps and were on and off public assistance benefits for years. The large family squeezed itself into a third-floor apartment.
Zubeidat took classes at the Catherine Hinds Institute of Esthetics, before becoming a state-licensed aesthetician. Anzor, who had studied law, fixed cars.
By some accounts, the family was tolerant.
Bethany Smith, a New Yorker who befriended Zubeidat’s two daughters, said in an interview with Newsday that when she stayed with the family for a month in 2008 while she looked at colleges, she was welcomed even though she was Christian and had tattoos.
“I had nothing but love over there. They accepted me for who I was,” Smith told the newspaper. “Their mother, Zubeidat, she considered me to be a part of the family. She called me her third daughter.”
Zubeidat said she and Tamerlan began to turn more deeply into their Muslim faith about five years ago after being influenced by a family friend, named “Misha.” The man, whose full name she didn’t reveal, impressed her with a religious devotion that was far greater than her own, even though he was an ethnic Armenian who converted to Islam.
“I wasn’t praying until he prayed in our house, so I just got really ashamed that I am not praying, being a Muslim, being born Muslim. I am not praying. Misha, who converted, was praying,” she said.