BOSTON — A year ago, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty — who is now preparing the prosecution of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — surveyed a Boston courtroom packed with supporters of a Massachusetts man convicted of providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country.
The defendant, Tarek Mehanna, was found guilty of helping al-Qaida by promoting holy war online. His supporters heard tough words last April from the prosecutor, who asked for a 25-year prison term to deter Muslims from turning radical.
“They're watching this case because what the defendant represents is the harm of homegrown violent extremism,” Chakravarty said. “It's the metastasization of this perverted interpretation of a great faith to motivate other people to take up arms against a country who is providing them protection.”
Today, Mehanna is serving a 171⁄2-year sentence, as Chakravarty begins the prosecution of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tsarnaev, 19, is charged with joining his older brother Tamerlan, 26, both immigrants of Chechen descent, in planting two bombs near the finish line April 15, killing three people and injuring more than 260. The elder brother died after a police shootout.
Chakravarty, born in the United States of Indian descent and a co-leader of the team prosecuting Tsarnaev, also works outside the courtroom to foster better relations between the government and Muslims.
The Tsarnaevs were schooled online in radical Islam and terrorist bomb-making, said Maryland Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. The brothers found bomb-making information in Inspire, an online magazine affiliated with the al-Qaida terrorist organization, according to Ruppersberger. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wounded in the throat, communicated “through writing and nodding,” in his hospital bed, the congressman told reporters.
Chakravarty, 40, was at Tsarnaev's bedside for the formal notification of the charges against him, including using weapons of mass destruction.
Another assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, William Weinreb, spoke on the government's behalf. Both men work under Carmen Ortiz, the Massachusetts U.S. attorney, in the antiterrorism and national security unit.
If convicted, Tsarnaev might face execution under federal law. Investigators are examining whether the brothers were prompted by people or organizations outside the United States.
Chakravarty also prosecuted Muhammad Masood, the onetime spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of New England. Masood, a native of Pakistan, was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to lying to immigration officials while trying to obtain permanent residency in the U.S.
Chakravarty, known as Al, has joined other officials in meeting with Muslims through a program known as “Bridges,” which seeks to use monthly dialogue to open channels of communication.
“Al's a talented guy; he's a committed guy,” said Kurt Schwartz, the Massachusetts undersecretary of homeland security and emergency management. “A human side to a prosecutor who understands the world and relationships is a good thing.”
Edward Davis, Boston's police commissioner, said that since the bombings he has been contacted “by many Muslim families who are concerned about how people are perceiving this.”
Chakravarty, Davis said, “was in the middle of this right from the get-go. He was at the command post every time I walked in there. I don't think he slept at all.”