In the months before the Boston Marathon bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife, Katherine Russell, searched the Internet for “wife of mujahedeen” and “what are the rewards for wives of mujahedeen,” according to testimony in the bomber trial Tuesday.
After the April 2013 attacks, Russell, who now uses her married name Karima Tsarnaeva, exchanged texts with her best friend about the carnage at the finish line and wrote, “Although a lot more people are killed every day in Syria and other places. Innocent people.”
“I thought it was strange she was bringing that up in this situation,” the friend, Gina Crawford, told the court Monday. Crawford said she had been interviewed by the FBI twice in 2013.
Katherine Russell has not been charged in connection with the April 15, 2013 bombings that killed three, left another 17 amputees, and wounded more than 240 others. Law enforcement officials told ABC News they are continuing to investigate what role, if any, she played in the conspiracy.
Russell’s name has been brought up several times during the penalty phase of the trial by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team as they try to save him from the death penalty by painting his older brother Tamerlan as the architect of the attacks.
Tamerlan, 26, was killed in the early hours of April 19, 2013 when he was shot in a wild firefight with police and then hit and dragged by his brother as Dzhokhar fled in a stolen SUV from the scene in the Boston suburb of Watertown. Tamerlan's death capped a two-day crime spree that started with the murder of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, the carjacking of a Cambridge businessman, and the bomb and bullet battle in Watertown. Dzhokhar was discovered hours later hiding and wounded in a dry-docket boat.
“The man who conceived, planned, and led this crime is beyond our power to punish,” defense attorney David Bruck told the court in his opening statement Monday, referring to Tamerlan. “Only the 19-year-old brother [Dzhokhar] who helped is left.”
Katherine Russell’s mother Judith, a nurse, also took the stand for the defense Monday and said that her daughter met Tamerlan at a nightclub while she was a student at Suffolk University. Katherine brought Tamerlan home to meet her mother in a meeting that left Judith Russell unimpressed, she testified.
“He didn’t really seem interested in getting to know us, so it didn’t start off on a really good feeling,” Judith Russell told the court. “We weren’t real happy with her choice in the relationship.”
After Tamerlan traveled to Russia in 2012 the couple's interest in Islam intensified, she said. With Tamerlan, she said, it bordered on “obsession.”
“She was covering and he started to grow his body hair,” Judith Russell said. “There was progression of his belief system and passion.”
After Tamerlan was killed, Judith woke up to her other daughter crying. Judith asked Russell's sister, “I wanted to know what was going on, and she said, 'Katie thinks that Tamerlan’s dead.'”
Judith Russell said she then drove to Cambridge to pick up her daughter and granddaughter Zahira. There she called the FBI and met agents at the Cambridge police station where she said she was questioned. Katherine moved home to Kingston, Rhode Island for a few months after the bombings.
Judith Russell insisted that she did not recognize her son-in-law in the photos released by the FBI the day before Tamerlan was killed.
“I didn’t think it was him,” Russell testified. “I’d never met Dzhokhar, and I didn’t think it was Tamerlan.”
She said her daughter is “healing” but not living at home. “Obviously it hasn’t been as hard as all the other victims in Boston, but she’s getting her life together is more kind of lighter in spirit and more like the Katie that we know.”
An attorney for Russell declined to comment for this report.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted earlier this month of all 30 counts against him related to the bombing. Now in the sentencing phase of the case, the same jury that convicted him will decide whether he should be put to death.