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Boston Area Is At A Standstill As Police Search For Suspect


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. And Steve, what an astonishing morning this has been.


GREENE: In the city of Boston, a major American city, Boston and its suburbs are in total lockdown this morning during a manhunt for one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday. Now two suspects have been identified as brothers from the Russian republic of Chechnya. One of the suspects, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shootout with police overnight. His brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is still at large. Many areas in Boston are in lockdown and we want to go there right now.

NPR's Jeff Brady is on the line from Watertown, a suburb about seven or eight miles from Boston where there is major police activity ongoing. And Jeff, what are you seeing right now?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Well, we're still seeing a lot of police here at the Watertown Mall, not seeing the helicopter that had been circling the neighborhood, where it must've been the last hour or so. I was able to talk with someone who lives in the neighborhood over near where that shootout took place very early this morning. Her name is Cynthia Brooks.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

BRADY: She lives about seven to eight blocks from there and she said that early this morning gunshots and sirens woke her up and since then she's had to stay inside of her house. There have been SWAT teams moving up and down the street, sometimes they would actually be in her backyard. She says they've come up to her window, looked inside and then given her the thumbs-up.

GREENE: That sounds incredibly frightening. I mean, SWAT teams literally in her yard?

BRADY: Yeah. Actually in the yard. You know, things like private property don't really come into play when you've got someone this dangerous that may be in the neighborhood. Police are doing what they can to find him.

INSKEEP: And Jeff Brady, I feel obliged to mention. You said that shootout. I feel obliged to just remind people - especially those just waking up - of what has happened in the last less than 24 hours. The two suspects were identified at least by face. One of them was accused of robbing a 7-Eleven - we don't know exactly why - last night, the face was caught on video. Police converged on the area. There were a number of violent incidents. A police officer was killed, another wounded. Police shot it out with the suspects. One of them killed. Explosive devices were used. And then one suspect is still at large. And you're saying that we just don't know if that suspect is inside one of the buildings that is of interest to police this morning.

BRADY: Yeah. We don't know. We know that around the city, there - we get reports that there is a suspicious package here or there is a building where police are focusing on there. We don't know exactly where that person is right now. We don't really even know if police know. But we know that there are a lot of police officers blanketing this city and they're trying to find this man as soon as they can. And in the meantime, the city is just at a standstill. On a regular workday, it's at a standstill.

GREENE: And again, looking for one of the suspects - we believe police are looking for one of the suspects. His brother, we believe, is dead. We do not know anything yet about these men's backgrounds, possible motive, so little is known at this point. We do know that they are from Chechnya, which is part of a region of Russia, the North Caucasus, where there have been plots of terrorism planned in the past. And the fact that they are from abroad has made this more of an international story.

And we want to turn to NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro right now at the White House, where we understand President Obama is being closely up to date on this as it's unfolding.

Ari, what are you hearing?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, David. That's right. A meeting started in the White House situation room about an hour ago, 9:45 AM, local time. More than a dozen of President Obama's senior aides were part of the meeting. Apparently, Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI director Mueller, his chief of staff, his national security advisor were all there in the room. Others were in video conference at this meeting, the secretary of state, the Homeland Security director, the head of the CIA. You get the sense that the entire federal government has mobilized around this effort. And the White House says this follows on overnight briefings that the president received from his Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor, Lisa Monaco. They obviously want to portray that this is a president that is in the loop, on top of this and being kept abreast of this situation, minute by minute, as it unfolds.

GREENE: Do we know yet, Ari Shapiro, if the president or anyone in the administration has reached out to the Russian government yet, since we've been learning about that these young men are likely from Chechnya?

SHAPIRO: In fact, we have heard shockingly little from the White House about anything other than this Situation Room meeting that I just described for you. Originally, the schedule today had a briefing from White House Spokesman Jay Carney at noon. It is safe to assume that at some point today, we will hear from the president. We'll likely have a lot more information as the day unfolds, but right now, the White House is being very tightlipped about how they're dealing with this, beyond just the readout of that meeting I described for you.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro. And that's a good reminder that there is so much we do not know. And, in fact, everything that we learn about these two suspects only leads to more questions, more unknowns - for example, the fact that they are described as being young men from Chechnya. What exactly does that mean? What exactly does that imply? Let's work through the facts that are known on the ground with Matt Rojansky. He's deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Welcome back to the program, sir.

MATT ROJANSKY: Hi. Thanks for having me again.

INSKEEP: And I want to just mention something that we heard from counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman earlier this hour. He had a caution for us. He said while they're being described as from Chechnya, do you really know that sometimes Chechen is a generic term for people from various parts of the Caucasus? Is that something we should keep in mind here?

ROJANSKY: It may be. I think, you know, if you're talking about folks who speak Chechen or have specific family ties in Chechnya, it's reasonable to conclude that they are Chechens. But there are a number, a number of small ethnic groups all throughout the Caucasus. It's the most restive region in southern Russia, and it's a place where terrorism has been a significant problem for two decades.

INSKEEP: OK. And let's remember, we are collecting dots here. We are not connecting dots yet. Let's talk about some of the dots when you bring the Chechnya region into play. When you heard that the suspects were from that part of the world, what thoughts went into your head?

ROJANSKY: You know, I'm surprised that there would be folks actually coming from that region, mounting an attack outside. That, as far as I know, is unprecedented. There have been attacks within Russia, within other parts of Russia, attacks on Moscow, on the Moscow metro, on apartment buildings and so on, but thus far, the connective tissue between the insurgency and the Islamist separatists and terrorists in the North Caucasus and the wider world has actually come from outsiders. It's come from volunteers from the Arabian Peninsula, for example, who join as, you know, effectively, mujahedeen and come to the North Caucasus, and then move on to places like Iraq or Afghanistan. It hasn't been people from the region so much who have become the internationalized foot soldiers of the movement.

INSKEEP: Let's remember a little bit of recent history, here. Chechnya has been a breakaway portion of Russia. They've fought wars against the Russian government. There have been insurgencies that have been nationalist in flavor, Islamist in flavor, a variety of different groups. But you're saying it is surprising to find someone from Chechnya - according to police, anyway - targeting the United States. That part is a mystery to you.

ROJANSKY: Again, we, you know, we don't know exactly who these guys are, even how long they've been here, because it is possible that this is a scenario of a quasi-homegrown radicalization, somebody who has been in the United States for perfectly legitimate reasons - to live, to study, to work - who has become alienated and become radicalized. I think the important question, then - and this is the one I hope and I'm confident that U.S. officials are asking, especially if they're talking to Russians - is what contacts have they had with either separatist terrorists back home in Russia, or with wider global movements? Which may help shed some light on anything else that may be planned or anyone else who may be involved so we can prevent any future violence.

INSKEEP: All right. Mr. Rojansky, thanks very much.

ROJANSKY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Matt Rojansky of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

We have a little bit of news to bring you up to date on now from Boston, where police are continuing to search for one suspect who has survived. We're now told a vehicle has been found, apparently the vehicle in which these young men fled after carjacking it. It's described as a car that's unoccupied, with plate 316-ES9. And we are told that the car is being processed for evidence by authorities. That is one of the pieces of evidence across metropolitan Boston today, as authorities try to gather evidence and try to find the one of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects still at large.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.