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Published:April 24th, 2013 22:27 EST
Psychologist Dr. Judy Kuriansky Makes Some Sense of Suspected Boston Bombing Brothers

Psychologist Dr. Judy Kuriansky Makes Some Sense of Suspected Boston Bombing Brothers

By Dr. Judy Kuriansky (Mentor/Columnist)

As the world puzzles over the personalities of the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the impact of their actions, noted psychologist Dr. Judy Kuriansky offers some insight.

How can a nice guy do such evil? It`s entirely possible. High school schoolmates of the 19-year old terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, describe him as "friendly and funny" "a very nice person" "a team player" and "easy going" in high school, and are surprised at his actions now. One girl told a TV reporter it a "180 degree switch in personality." His wrestling coach saw no signs. His twitter feeds sounded like a normal 19-year old American teen, following hip hop and Nemo.

But mild-mannered people can snap and criminals can deceive and perpetrators can put on a face. The Times Square bomber was also described by others as a seemingly nice guy.

Also, youth can seem well-adjusted at one point and then do an about-face, especially teens already in a crisis of identity and easily influenced. Terrorists are especially trained to hide their true intent; in fact the 19-year old suspect took acting classes and had "Americanized" his name (to Jahar) to fit in.

In my view, in this case, the younger brother was likely brainwashed, pressured, and controlled by, his 7-years older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as the mastermind. As in the case of the Menendez brothers who killed their parents, younger brothers can claim to be intimidated by and under the spell of an older sibling to do evil.

Some support for this: the younger Tsarnaev was supposedly involved two activities - as a lifeguard as also (as per his father) studying medicine - saving lives but now taking them. Something since his high school days evidently changed, as Dzhokhar was fired from his 2-year long lifeguard job this past summer, for not showing up for his shifts at the pool. Also, the 19-year old was clearly out of his league, spooked in the police chase to the point of running his car over his older brother killed by cops. Alone on the run now, he is undoubtedly now desperate, even more erratic and out of control.

The brothers were clearly unsophisticated "terrorists." Typical suicide bombers detonate their vest and kill themselves, but the Boston brothers walked away. They obviously did not have a clever exit plan, making no attempt to disguise themselves. The younger brother even wore his white cap characteristically backwards, fully exposing his face. They had no money (hence, robbed a 711) and no escape car (hence, carjacked). They desperately threw hand grenades out the window of their getaway car.

There were clues. Casual comments can no longer be ignored or considered a joke. A schoolmate describes that the younger terrorist once said to a friend, "terrorism when justified is not a bad thing." Also, the older brother said he "cannot understand Americans." This is a telling comment reflecting alienation and showing seeds of feeling "us" and "them" that can lead to aggression. The older brother was reported to have a Youtube profile as of August 2012, with a playlist named "Terrorists" and to have suspiciously spent time outside this country.

In retrospect (and with absolute due respect to athletes), the borthers` choice of sports - boxing for the older brother and wrestling for the younger brother- are consistent with their acts of close one-on-one aggression and dominance.

It is no surprise that these terrorists have tried to be "Americanized." Other terrorists try to meld into the culture. The older brother apparently wanted to be a famous Olympic boxer, and the younger brother was chosen to be captain of his high school wrestling team. The latter also was in acting class. Terrorists infiltrating the U.S. (as the 9/11 terrorists) do go about a "normal" American life, trying to assimilate, throwing off suspicion, until they strike.

The older brother`s level of hatred, disrespect for life, and disregard for family, is evident by the fact that he is was supposedly standing right near the 8 year old boy killed in the detonated bomb, while he himself is the father - of a 3-year old little girl. This blind disregard for others is typical of suicide bombers and terrorists, who can be "family men" though many are single young recruits. The cold-blooded up-close-and-personal execution of the MIT policeman shot in his car reveals more vitriolic hatred than acts more distant form victims.

Timing of an event is significant. The Boston marathon bombing ironically fell on "Patriots Day" - clearly a sign of added disdain for America. The fact that their father had returned to Russia a year ago could have added to the sons` ability to stray from family values.

Parents are not to blame. But the public will naturally tend to ostracize and blame relatives of the bombers. Parents may be perfectly "good parents" who end up having little influence on, and be blind to, changes in their children, especially when they become radicalized. Apparently the terrorist`s boys` father, contacted in Russia, said his young son was "his little angel." A seeming innocent or obedient child can be radicalized when ideology clouds the mind. Parents of identified young killers are often shocked at their child`s behavior. The father of these two brothers told Russian investigators that his sons could have been framed. The brothers` mother denied on TV that her sons could have done this act and claimed they were known by officials.

Extended family should also not be blamed. One uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, of the accused brothers purposefully faced reporters to distance himself from his nephews, to defend his brother (their father) as not the one who radicalized them, and to defend his ethnicity and religion, as Chechen (whom he calls "peaceful people") and as Muslim, and to distance the family from the two nephews who have put a "shame on the family." He explained the boys` actions by being "losers...not being able to settle themselves" and consequently to hate everyone who did. Family members cannot be blamed. In the name of the family, the uncle seeks forgiveness of the injured families and made pleas to the boys to turn themselves in and seek forgiveness. Clearly there will be interest in the personality and reactions of the sisters of these two male terrorists - who may be as shocked as their uncle at what has happened, but whose lives may never be the same, tainted by familial ties to evil siblings.

Prejudice, sadly, is inevitable in the wake of this event. Just as post 9/11, people will look to blame whatever group the perpetrators belong to. Peace-makers and faith leaders will have to make determined efforts to call for a halt to these prejudices.

The brothers` disorganized strikes and erratic behavior indicate the increased danger we face as a public from terrorists. Their behavior can be a reason for terrorist organizations to celebrate the chaos being created, but also perhaps to be even more vigilant in their training.

We as a public are now more than ever before partners in fighting crime. Police sometimes call on the public and press for help to identify and locate a perpetrator, but this incident has brought the cooperation of the public into even higher profile. Facebook photos from people were key in picturing the suspect. No doubt there will be an increase in sales of theme-related computer games, as kids follow this story.

The partnership between community and police is even more solidified. In Superstorm Sandy, officials pleaded with people to evacuate their homes, but some disobeyed. In Boston, police pleas for people to stay in their homes have been honored and appreciated.

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