What female DNA on the Boston bombs does, and doesn't, mean

The Week
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev approximately 10 to 20 minutes before the blasts that struck the Boston Marathon, April 15.
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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev approximately 10 to 20 minutes before the blasts that struck the Boston Marathon, April 15.

Federal investigators have gathered a DNA sample from Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, but they may be grasping at straws

On Monday, federal investigators disclosed that a bit of female DNA was found on a fragment of at least one of the pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 200 others at the Boston Marathon. Also on Monday, the FBI visited suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, to collect a DNA sample to see if it matches the material found on the bomb.

Russell, 24, has been staying at her parents' home in Rhode Island since her husband's death, and the focus on her "is part of the wider effort by the FBI to determine who else may have played a role aiding the bombers," say Michael S. Schmidt and Serge F. Kovaleski in The New York Times.

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The authorities are looking at a range of possibilities, two senior law enforcement officials said, including that she could have — wittingly or unwittingly — destroyed evidence, helped the bombers evade capture, or even played a role in planning the attacks.... While the authorities do not believe the bombers were tied to a larger terrorist network or had accomplices, they remain skeptical that others did not know of their plans or did not help them destroy evidence. [New York Times]

Russell's lawyer, Amato A. DeLuca, says his client was as shocked as everyone else when Tamerlan Tsarnaev was implicated in the attacks. Russell doesn't speak Russian, DeLuca adds, so she didn't always understand what her husband discussed with others. And as The Wall Street Journal points out, there are a lot of possible explanations for how female DNA ended up on the bombs: "It could have come, for example, from a store clerk who handled materials used in the bombs or a stray hair that ended up in the bomb."

Oh boy, says Allahpundit at Hot Air, "I sure hope there's more to this than the Journal is letting on, because if the odds of a completely innocent explanation are as high as they imply, it's a major cloud of suspicion over Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife for no reason at all." Even if Russell's DNA is found on the bomb fragments, why would that even be surprising? he asks.

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Not every component in the device had a nefarious explanation. There's a chance, I suppose, that one of the pressure cookers came from the family's own kitchen. Tamerlan, who was famously domineering according to people who knew him, also might have told his wife to go out and buy one of the components he needed without explaining what it was for. Unless her DNA's on the explosive itself, how would the feds ever prove that it didn't end up there innocently? [Hot Air]

Also, this bears repeating: The FBI is reportedly looking into the activities of a half-dozen "persons of interest" in the U.S. — not just Russell — and so far, they have no evidence that anyone other than the two brothers was involved in the bombing. "It appears, at this point, based on the evidence, that it's the two of them," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told CBS News on Sunday. Other lawmakers seem convinced that somebody aided the Tsarnaev brothers.

"Given the level of sophistication of this device, the fact that the pressure cooker is a signature device that goes back to Pakistan, Afghanistan," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on Fox News Sunday, it seems likely "that there was a trainer, and the question is where is that trainer or trainers."

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That's pretty weak tea, says Justin Peters at Slate. Pressure-cooker bombs are popular in Pakistan "in part because they are cheap and easy to make," and because there are instructions on how to make them online. Politicians have their own reasons for talking up outside help or downplaying the possibility, says Peters, but it's "likely that none of them know for sure what happened."

It's certainly possible that the Tsarnaevs had help. It's just as possible they didn't. We just don't know yet, and the reason we don't know is because the FBI's investigation is barely a week old. So rather than going on TV and declaring, as McCaul did, that "the experts," whoever they are, "all agree that there is someone who did train these two individuals," every politician needs to take a deep breath and let the FBI do its job. [Slate]

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