BOSTON (AFP) – The shaggy-haired US university student accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings was due to make his first court appearance Wednesday, nearly three months after the deadly attacks.
When he steps into a federal courthouse at 3:30 pm (1930 GMT), Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will come face-to-face with people wounded on April 15 when two pressure cooker devices exploded near the race’s finish line.
The 19-year-old ethnic Chechen Muslim, a naturalized US citizen, faces 30 counts in connection with the attacks, which left three people dead and more than 260 wounded.
Seventeen of those counts are punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.
At the hearing, Tsarnaev will be arraigned and he will have to enter a plea, said Christina Dilorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors.
The attacks stunned America with scenes of carnage and chaos at one of the country’s premier sporting events. The bombs were packed with metal fragments to cause maximum damage, and several people lost one or more limbs.
Security has been stepped up at the courthouse for the hearing, with metal barricades already set up early Wednesday. Some journalists arrived six hours early, in the hopes of getting a seat in the courtroom.
A second overflow room with audio and video transmission has been set up for the media.
All victims and relatives of the dead were informed of the hearing. Liz Norden, whose two sons aged 32 and 33 each lost a leg in the attacks, said she could not miss the proceedings.
“I just want to know why,” Norden said. “I just don’t understand how you can live in this country and feel that way.”
Tsarnaev, who had lived in the Boston area for a decade, was a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at the time of the attacks and seemed well integrated into American life.
He is accused of plotting and carrying out the attacks with his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan, who died in a shootout with police as the pair tried to escape the Boston area several days later.
He is also charged in connection with the shooting death of a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the brothers’ wild overnight getaway attempt.
The younger Tsarnaev was captured on April 19 after a huge manhunt that virtually shut down the Boston area. Police found him hiding in a boat in a backyard in a Boston suburb. He was seriously wounded.
He allegedly scrawled a rambling explanation of his motives for the Boston attacks on an interior wall of the boat.
“The US government is killing our innocent civilians,” Tsarnaev wrote.
“I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished … we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.
“Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but … stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”
The charges against Tsarnaev include use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, as well as conspiracy and bombing of a place of public use resulting in death and carjacking.
The brothers are said to have built the bombs with help from an online Al-Qaeda magazine, but are not believed to have received help from any outside group, according to the indictment.
They were also said to have watched sermons by Yemeni-born American radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, a key figure in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
The two bombs were detonated seconds apart, killing a boy, a Chinese student and a woman restaurant manager. At least 13 of the injured had limbs torn off.
The trial is not expected to begin any time soon.
The decision on whether to seek the death penalty is up to US Attorney General Eric Holder.