In the aftermath of the arrest of the younger Boston bomber and the death of the older one, attention has turned to Katherine Russell, the American wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and mother of his 3 year old daughter Zahara.
Russell was a talented artist, a good student who grew up as a Christian, the daughter of a suburban doctor. Then she went off to college in Boston.
A few years later, she had dropped out of school, converted to Islam and was Karima Tsarnaev, wife of a man who would become a suspect in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings and a subject of one of the biggest manhunts in American history.
Tsarnaev, 24, has avoided the public eye since her identity became known Friday. On the rare occasions when she has emerged from her parents’ Rhode Island home, she is dressed in the traditional Muslim headscarf, a hijab, and has refused to answer questions. Those who know her and knew her husband describe her as sweet and dedicated to Islam.
Katherine grew up with two younger sisters in North Kingstown, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father, Warren Russell, is an emergency doctor and her mother, Judith Russell, works at a social services agency.
She attended North Kingstown High School, graduating in 2007. Her yearbook entry lists her plans as college and the Peace Corps. However all this changed when she enrolled in Suffolk University in Boston. She met Tamerlan Tsarnaev at a nightclub, introduced by one of her girlfriends.
They dated on and off for a while until they got married on June 21, 2010. Katherine dropped out of school, converted to Islam and changed her name to Karima. Their friends in university have said that Tamerlan became overly religious and stopped hanging out with them and also forbade Katherine from going out with them. He became extremely judgmental, they said.
The couple lived with their daughter in the Tsarnaev family apartment, which was shared over the years with his mother, Zubeidat, and father, Anzor, now divorced, and Dzhokhar, the younger brother and second Boston bombing suspect.
Though, many people close to him have said that Tamerlan, the older bombing suspect and Katherine’s husband, had begun to develop extremist tendencies before the bombings and his subsequent death, Katherine has said through her lawyer, Amato Deluca, that she had no reason to suspect her husband of anything and was focused on supporting her family, working 70 to 80 hours, seven days a week as a home health care aide. Her husband cared for their daughter when she was away, Deluca said.
However, Anne Kilzer, a frequent customer of his mother’s described Tamerlan Tsarnaev as surly and intimidating and painted his wife as cowed and intimidated by him. “She was a very sweet woman, but I think kind of brainwashed by him,” she said. The apartment was so cramped and crowded, Kilzer said, that it would have been difficult for Tsarnaev to hide criminal activity from his wife. Neighbours of the couple have also said that Tamerlan abused his wife and that there were frequent arguments at and police visits to the Tsarnaev home.
Federal authorities have asked to interview Katherine, and DeLuca on Sunday told The Associated Press he is discussing with them how to proceed. He said on Tuesday during a brief statement to reporters that his client “is doing everything she can to assist with the investigation,” although he would not answer questions about whether she had spoken with federal authorities.
DeLuca said she learned that her husband was suspected of being responsible for bombing the Boston Marathon the same way a lot of other people did: on TV.
Her other lawyer, Miriam Weizenbaum, said on Tuesday that reports of her husband and brother-in-law’s involvement in the bombings came as a shock to Tsarnaev and her family and said she deeply mourned the loss of innocent victims. Tsarnaev, she said, was trying to come to terms with the events.
The question still to be asked however, is, what kind of woman is Katherine Russell or Karima Tsarnaev as she is now known? Is she a woman who was so afraid of her husband that she’d rather watch him kill innocent people than speak up against him? What gave him so much power over her that she totally changed the course of her life for him? It is said that behind every successful man lies a good woman; the question to be asked now is what kind of woman lies behind a terrorist?