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Boston Marathon bombings Rumor Control 2: FBI knew bomber, 9/11 citizenship, Chemical warehouse, Facebook 'early creation,' more

Members of a police S.W.A.T. team search through a neighborhood in Watertown as they search for 19-year-old bombing suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev on April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Members of a police S.W.A.T. team search through a neighborhood in Watertown as they search for 19-year-old bombing suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev on April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

News of last week's horrific bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon broke rapidly and widely across mainstream media, the Internet and social media. As in all such fluid situations, a lot of bad information was mixed in with the good. A similar spread of misinformation accompanied the subsequent multi-agency response that resulted in the death of suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and the capture of his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Here are the latest official developments in the case. As for the rest of the information out there, KPCC deconstructs some of the worst rumors and speculation and tries to find the truth behind them.

1) FBI previously investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev

The rumor: The FBI previously investigated and interviewed deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev because of potential radical ties.

In reality: It sounds like a rumor, but it happened. In 2011. The FBI confirmed it in a news release last week: early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.

In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history.

The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government.

2) Bombing suspects received citizenship on 9/11

The rumor: Boston Marathon bombing suspects became naturalized U.S. citizens on September 11 — the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

In reality: Half true. Both brothers were born in Kyrgyzstan. Both were residents of Massachusetts. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a legal permanent resident and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to the FBI. 

Dzhokhar, 19, did receive citizenship on Sept. 11, 2012, CBS first reported. He did not choose the date, according to SlateTamerlan, 26, filed for citizenship six months ago, but immigration officials had not yet made a decision, reports the L.A. Times:

Immigration officials were aware of a domestic violence charge on his record and also knew that the FBI had questioned him, the source said, but it's unclear what Tamerlan was told about his prospects for citizenship

3) Facebook pages "early creation" before bombing

The rumor: That Facebook pages set up in response to the Boston Marathon bombing — memorial pages, tributes, etc. — were created before the tragedy occurred, thereby proving a "false flag" plot of coordinated malevolence designed to deflect blame and/or strip civil liberties and/or inflate government power.

In realityThe "Joined Facebook" date is not reliable evidence in exposing a nefarious plot since the title and purpose of a page can change. Many Facebook pages have the flexibility to take on new identities, notes Snopes, and a page that used to be dedicated to, say, why red licorice is better than black licorice, may someday find a new purpose. 

4) Man seen at Boston chemical warehouse 

The rumor: A group on Facebook called "Help Catch the Boston Marathon Bomber" posted a photo they claimed was captured on closed circuit TV from a chemical warehouse located "15 miles away from the place of explosion - closest chemical warehouse near the Boston marathon."  The caption continues:

"According to the employees who are employed in the warehouse, the man had asked for a chemical present in a pentane-air mixture. This type of chemical could be bonded with other chemicals such as the nitric oxide gas, which could cause a masssive combustion. Although he was denied the purchase of the chemical (alternative methods of creating explosives are available), there is a high chance that he is responsible or knows something about the bombings. If everyone could please like or share this picture and page, we may be able to find out the responsible people behind this wicked crime. SPREAD THE WORD."

In reality: This 2011 photo was posted on the UK's This is Leicestershire after police released footage of a man seen leaving a building in England where a burglary took place. Televisions and computers were allegedly taken. It is unrelated to the Boston bombing.

5) Brown student Sunil Tripathi

The rumor: Sunil Tripathi — an Ivy League student missing for months and sought by his family — and Mike Mulugeta were named as the bombing suspects on a Boston Police Department scanner.

In reality: The Atlantic published a timeline called "It Wasn't Sunil Tripathi: The Anatomy of a Misinformation Disaster," that revisits the unfortunate events of last week's middle-of-the-night, misinformation pandemonium that named two people with zero connection to the Boston bombing as fugitive suspects.

The names of the "suspects" spread on Twitter and Reddit as rippling retweets quickly went tsunami. This particular piece of false information about Sunil proved to be a compelling undertow.

Amateur sleuth victory dances were full shimmy and "old media" was proclaimed dead amid the new crowdsourced era in which redditors find the bad guys hours before the pros do. Then a pro stepped in.

NBC's Pete Williams confirmed that actually two Chechnyan brothers were the primary suspects in the case. Apologies were made to Sunil Tripathi's family and others. Lots of Twitter accounts mysteriously went "private" or were deleted. And the whole situation was tidily summed up in under 140 characters:

Please note: Sunil Tripathi is still missing. Mr Tripathi’s sister, Sangeeta, told The Independent this week, that "after the events of last Thursday and Friday, we are launching our message back to the community and trying to channel the general public... The short of it is, we are still at it."

Sunil Tripathi is six feet tall, weighs 130lbs and has brown hair and brown eyes. When he went missing last month he was wearing blue jeans, glasses, a black Eastern Mountain brand jacket and a woollen hat bearing the insignia of the Philadelphia Eagles American football team. Twenty minutes before leaving his apartment, located next to Brown University in Providence, he had been using his computer and when he walked out of the door he left behind his mobile phone, identification card and wallet.

Although he was born and raised in Radnor, Pennsylvania, the young man had been living in Providence since 2008 and he followed both his sister and brother, Ravi, in enrolling at the Ivy League college to study philosophy. He loves chess and music and his family say he is a talented saxophonist.

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  6. JFK Library Explosion
  7. Sandy Hook Child Killed 
  8. Wedding Proposal/Woman Killed Before Boyfriend Proposes
  9. Retweet to Donate
  11. False victims/Tragedy actors 

Have you heard any rumors about the explosions at the Boston Marathon? Share them with us and we'll try to get to the bottom of them. You can post a comment below, tweet us @KPCC or post on our Facebook page.