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To locals' surprise, Tamerlan Tsarnaev buried in Virginia cemetery

By Greg Botelho and Paula Newton, CNN
updated 8:43 PM EDT, Fri May 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "It's not a political thing (but) he can't bury himself," an Islamic group official says
  • The death certificate says Tsarnaev is buried at Al-Barzakh Muslim Cemetery in Virginia
  • A Christian woman spearheaded the effort to find a burial site, Islamic group says
  • Local officials say they weren't consulted, though that's "standard practice" for burials

(CNN) -- The body of one of the two men accused of pulling off the Boston Marathon attack has been buried in rural Virginia -- a development that local officials said caught them totally "off guard."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's remains were accepted "by an interfaith coalition in that community -- they responded to our calls," his uncle Ruslan Tsarni, of Maryland, told CNN. The body was buried in an unmarked grave in a Muslim cemetery in Doswell, Virginia, according to Tsarni.

"My tradition was that of a Muslim, and I have that tradition of burial, and people helped me with that," he said in a phone interview.

The death certificate released by Massachusetts authorities indicates that Tsarnaev, whose cause of death was listed as gunshot wounds and "blunt trauma to (his) head and torso," was interred at Al-Barzakh Muslim Cemetery in Doswell, which is about 25 minutes north of Richmond in a rural county of about 30,000 people.

While the news came out Friday, Bukhari Abdel-Alim from the Islamic Funeral Services of Richmond said Tsarnaev was actually buried the previous morning.

Speaking Friday from the cemetery, which his organization owns, Abdel-Alim said there was "no intention to ... make anybody angry," but that he and others felt obligated to do what "God says to do" by putting Tsarnaev's "body back into the earth."

"It's not a political thing (but) he can't bury himself," said Abdel-Alim, adding his only regret was that Tsarnaev "wasn't buried sooner." "...Whether he was Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, when you're dead you need to be buried or taken care of, not just left in a funeral home."

Police in Worcester, Massachusetts, had announced Thursday a "courageous and compassionate individual came forward" to take Tsarnaev's remains out of Worcester, where the body had been at a funeral home while Tsarni and officials tried to determine what to do with it.

From left, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev went with Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Times Square in this photo taken from the social media site VK.com. Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev were arrested on Wednesday, May 1, on charges they tried to throw investigators off Tsarnaev's trail. See all photography related to the Boston bombings. From left, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev went with Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Times Square in this photo taken from the social media site VK.com. Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev were arrested on Wednesday, May 1, on charges they tried to throw investigators off Tsarnaev's trail. See all photography related to the Boston bombings.
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The chairman of the Caroline County, Virginia, board of supervisors, Floyd W. Thomas, said Friday afternoon he couldn't then confirm or deny that Tsarnaev is buried in his county and that he hadn't seen the death certificate. As he pointed out, "standard practice" is that local officials are not notified that a burial is taking place.

According to Thomas and county Sheriff Tony Lippa, neither they or any other officials in the county knew about plans to bury Tsarnaev in that area. They were not consulted, nor did they provide permission for such a burial to happen, said Thomas.

At the least, he later told CNN, county officials "would have preferred to be in a position to ... prepare for it a little better."

News of Tsarnaev's burial in the county upset residents like Rhonda Richardson, who said she thinks the body should have been taken to where his parents are in southern Russia.

"He killed Americans on American soil, therefore he shouldn't be buried here," she told CNN.

At Friday's press conference, Thomas acknowledged residents' concerns and said "I understand how you feel, and I feel the same way." He said Caroline County does not want to be associated with such a "terrible crime" that took place more than 500 miles away, even though Tsarnaev has "no ties to Caroline County."

"We do not wish to be the home of the remains of one of those perpetrators," he said.

Lippa, the county's sheriff, said members of Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli's office are also looking into the matter "to make sure all legalities were being followed." But unless something wasn't done right -- in which case, Thomas said, "we would look into undoing what happened" -- officials' hands are tied, he said.

"As long as everything was done legally, there's really very little that we can do," Thomas said.

Officials were also concerned about securing the private cemetery against possible trespassing protesters or those who might attempt to deface the grave site.

While a sheriff's deputy was stationed there Friday, officials said the county does not have money set aside to provide security.

It's all a headache that Thomas, for one, never saw coming.

"Of all the localities in the United States, this was probably the last one we would have thought of," he said.

What would happen to the body of the man who, along with his younger brother, Dzhokhar, was accused of setting off two deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon on April 15 had been a nearly month-long puzzle.

The body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in a police pursuit days after the bombings, went unclaimed for nearly two weeks. A funeral home in Worcester -- about 40 miles west of downtown Boston -- eventually accepted the remains.

But protesters in Worcester made it clear they didn't want the body buried there, with one holding a sign that read, "Bury the garbage in the landfill." And the city manager of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Tsarnaev lived, said he would not allow Tsarnaev to be buried in the city, asserting that possible protests and media coverage would disrupt the community.

It also appeared that sending the body overseas was an unlikely option -- Tamerlan Tsarnaev's parents in the Russian region of Dagestan said they would not fly his body back to Russia for burial, citing passport problems, spokeswoman Heda Saratova said.

In a press release issued Friday, the Islamic Society of Greater Richmond said that a "private Virginia citizen" and licensed counselor named Martha Mullen "quietly coordinated efforts to resolve the problem of where to bury Tsarnaev's remains."

That included e-mails exchanged with representatives of the church she belonged to, as well as local Muslim, Jewish and Hindu representatives. She contacted Worcester police "after receiving an offer of a burial plot from the administration of the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia," the society said.

Mullen also talked with her local pastor about the moral implications of her spearheading the effort.

"Jesus tells us, 'Love your enemies,' " she said, according to the Islamic Society. "Not to hate them, even after they are dead."

Abdel-Alim, who is vice president of the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia and attended Thursday's burial, stressed Friday "there is no agreement with (Tsarnaev's) actions, whatsover, in any form or fashion." At the same time, he said "somebody needed to take responsibility."

"We were able to do so, and that's what we did," he said.

Tsarnaev's mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, appeared confused by Thursday's announcement from Worcester police. Speaking to CNN from Russia by phone Thursday evening, Zubeidat Tsarnaev said she didn't know whether her son was buried or where.

Tsarni -- who was the main point of contact over what to do with Tamerlan Tsarnaev's remains, according to Abdel-Alim -- said Friday that he called his nephew's father Thursday "to give him an update, but I did not tell him where he was buried."

"He didn't even ask me," Tsarni said.

Zubeidat Tsarnaev told CNN in late April that her husband couldn't travel to the United States, saying he was too ill. She said she eventually would be interested in heading to the United States to see her younger son, despite pending shoplifting charges against her in Massachusetts, where she once lived.

Tsarni said Friday he was "completely outraged that (the parents) have not been here for their children."

"My assumption is that they must be here, just to help with the investigation at least," Tsarni said.

CNN's Lawrence Crook III, Jason Hanna, Justin Lear and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

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