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Boston Bomber Suspects Had Attended Cambridge Mosque, Officials Say (UPDATE)

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BOSTON BOMBERS MOSQUE
A banner reading "United We Stand For Peace on Earth" stands outside the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge, Mass., on April 19. | AP

A mosque in Cambridge, Mass., confirmed Saturday that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Chechen-born brothers suspected in the Boston marathon attacks, infrequently attended services at the small center that was a 10-minute walk from their apartment.

"In their visits, they never exhibited any violent sentiments or behavior. Otherwise they would have been immediately reported to the FBI," said the statement from the Islamic Society of Boston. "After we learned of their identities, we encouraged anyone who knew them in our congregation to immediate report to law enforcement, which has taken place."

Anwar Kazmi, a member of the mosque's board of trustees, told a USA Today reporter that 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died early Friday morning after a shootout with police, was an infrequent attendee for about a year-and-a-half, while 19-year-old Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, who was captured hiding in a boat in Watertown on Friday night, attended only once.

The Los Angeles Times initially reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was kicked out of the mosque three months ago after he interrupted a Friday prayer service to argue with the imam. The imam leading the service had enraged Tsarnaev by praising Martin Luther King Jr. A congregant told the newspaper that Tsarnaev shouted, "You cannot mention this guy because he’s not a Muslim!” When Tamerlan Tsarnaev later returned to prayer services at the mosque, there were no additional incidents.

In an update on Sunday, the Los Angeles Times quoted Kazmi, who said that Tsarnaev was not kicked out after the outburst but that mosque staff spoke to him and he calmed down. "That was the only untoward sort of incident," Kazmi told a reporter.

The Cambridge mosque did not return a phone call and email from The Huffington Post asking for more details on the confrontation.

Imam Suhaib Webb, of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the city's largest mosque, said in an interview that he had recently heard of the incident. "That's a sign right there that his views aren't mainstream," Webb said.

The Cambridge mosque leaders' theology is not extremist, he said. Webb's mosque has the same owners but a separate administration from the Islamic Society of Boston. Webb said he never met the brothers and had not found their names on his mosque's membership list.

Reports previously quoted friends of the brothers saying they had attended the mosque, but Saturday was the first time the mosque confirmed their association.

"Right now, our focus will remain on grieving for the victims and their families, praying for a speedy recovery for the injured, and offering what support we can to all in need," the statement said.

Friends and family have described Tamerlan Tsarnaev as becoming more strident in his religious views in recent years. Federal authorities are investigating a six-month trip he took in 2012 to Chechnya and Dagestan, Muslim-majority regions in Russia and home to militant separatist movements. Reports have painted Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev as also being interested in Chechen independence movements.

The investigation is ongoing into the motivation for the bombings.

On Monday afternoon, the Islamic Society of Boston released a statement with more information about the Tsarnaev brothers' relationship to the Cambridge mosque. The statement largely confirms earlier reports but offers more details. "As the details related below will show ... one suspect disagreed with the moderate American-Islamic theology of the ISB Cambidge mosque," it says. Part of it is reprinted below.

Below is the detailed account of the suspects’ connection to our mosque related to us from our congregants to date:

-- Neither the ISB Board nor staff ever interacted with the suspects. When congregants have shared their knowledge of the suspects, the ISB leadership immediately instructed them to call the FBI.

-- The suspects were neither members nor regular attendees of our Cambridge mosque. The older suspect began coming intermittently to our congregational prayers on Friday over a year ago and occasionally to our daily prayers. The younger suspect was rarely seen at the center, coming only occasionally for prayer.

-- On November 16, 2012 at our weekly congregational prayer, one of our preachers sermonized that it was appropriate to celebrate national holidays like July 4th and Thanksgiving, just like the birthday of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). The older suspect stood up during the sermon and challenged the preacher, arguing that celebration of any
holiday was not allowed in the faith. After the sermon ended and the congregational prayer was finished, the preacher met with the older suspect to share his opinion. The suspect repeatedly argued his viewpoint, and then left.

-- On January 18, 2013, one of our preachers noted that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great person remembered in history. The older suspect stood up, shouted and called him a “non-believer”; said that he was “contaminating people’s mind”; and began calling him a hypocrite. People of the congregation, in turn, shouted back at the older suspect, “Leave now!” Due to the congregation’s disapproval, he left the sermon.

-- After the sermon and the congregational prayer ended, a few volunteer leaders of the mosque sat down with the older suspect and gave him a clear choice: either he stops interrupting sermons and remains silent or he would not be welcomed. While he continued to attend some of the congregational prayers after the January incident, he neither interrupted another sermon nor did he cause any other disturbances.

The ISB leadership must note that this is the account we have to date.

This story has been updated with comment from the Islamic Society of Boston and from Anwar Kazmi about the outburst by Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the Cambridge mosque.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Cambridge mosque briefly attended by Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the Islamic Center of Boston. It was the Islamic Society of Boston.

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