WASHINGTON

 

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, has been charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, a charge that could result in the death penalty, officials said.

Tsarnaev, 19, was charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction "against persons and property in the U.S. resulting in death" and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death, according to the Massachusetts U.S. attorney's office.

A clerk in the Office of the Circuit Executive confirmed the filing of charging documents against Tsarnaev. He was charged at his bed in Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, where he is receiving treatment for injuries he sustained in reported shootout with police. A magistrate judge was present on the occasion.

The statutory charges authorize a penalty, upon conviction, of death or imprisonment for life, prosecutors said.

"Although our investigation is ongoing, today's charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston and for our country," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement issued from the office of Carmen Ortiz, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with each of the bombing victims and brave law enforcement professionals who lost their lives or suffered serious injuries as a result of this week's senseless violence."

Holder also said, "We will hold those who are responsible for these heinous acts accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

The White House said the surviving suspect in the attack will not be tried as an enemy combatant in a military tribunal.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tsarnaev will be prosecuted in the federal court system, and President Barack Obama's entire national security team supported the decision.

Tsarnaev, meanwhile, has begun responding to investigators in writing, a source familiar with the case said Sunday evening.

Tsarnaev was in serious but stable condition, according to the FBI. He had been unable to speak due to a neck and throat injury, according to press reports. He was also intubated and breathing with the help of a respirator and earlier, officials had said he was not in any condition to be questioned.

It was not clear, however, whether what Tsarnaev was writing was of any value.

Authorities believe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have tried to shoot himself before he was taken into custody Friday night because of the trajectory and location of the bullet wound in his neck, press reports cited a source familiar with the investigation as saying on Sunday.

The shot was fired at close range, the source said, suggesting the wound was self-inflicted. He was found hidden in a boat in a backyard in Watertown, bloody and injured. He was able to step out of the boat before being taken into custody after a brief exchange of gunfire with police and then negotiation with FBI agents, said Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis.

As he lay on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital, the suspect was mouthing curse words, either to himself or to the armed authorities standing watch in the ambulance as paramedics treated him, the source said.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said Sunday authorities are now convinced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, who was killed in a shootout with police Friday morning, acted on their own in the bombing.

Police Commissioner Davis said investigators also have found a circuit board with a wire slotted through it at the bombing scene on Boylston Street and the area had been swept clean of explosives. Menino said that area is still under the control of the FBI, but will be released to the city soon and a five-phase restoration is planned.