Boston Bombing Suspect Bought Fireworks From Same Company As Failed Times Square Bomber

U.S. Officials Say Investigators Have Recovered Only One Handgun

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The older of the two Boston bombing suspects bought two mortar kits from a New Hampshire fireworks store in February — the same company that sold fireworks to the man accused of a failed Times Square car bombing in 2010, company officials said.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev bought two “Lock and Load” reloadable mortar kits containing 24 shells each on the evening of Feb. 6, said April Walton, the manager of Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook.

He paid $200 cash but scanned his driver’s license into the company’s computer system as required by store policy.

“We have a bank of computers at the front end where we greet everyone and hand out safety flyers,” she said. “He was just an average customer. — He signed in, walked around and purchased the kits with cash.”

Walton wasn’t in the store at the time but said the employee who handled the sale described it as a routine transaction.

“I just remember him asking for the biggest, loudest stuff,” said store clerk Megan Kerns.

Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, are accused of setting off the bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 180 others on April 15. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout, while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured alive but badly wounded.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (credit: CBS 2/Handout)

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (credit: CBS 2/Handout)

The amount of gunpowder that could be harvested from the kits, less than a pound and a half, would not have been enough to detonate the Boston bombs, company Vice President William Weimer said, although it’s possible some of that powder may have been used.

The absence of colored smoke in the Boston explosions and other special effects powders mixed in with the fireworks’ blast powder suggests the bombers sought and used an alternate fuel source, he said.

“My suspicion is they experimented with this, decided they couldn’t get enough powder out of them and went to look for another fuel,” Weimer said.

Weimer said the company checked its records and found Tsarnaev’s name seconds after investigators released the suspect’s identity.

FBI agents visited the Seabrook store Friday, interviewed staff and checked its computers. The FBI will not comment on whether investigators visited the store, agent David Couvertier said.

Weimer said it’s not his company’s first brush with terrorist activity. In 2010, Faisal Shahzad was seen on surveillance video buying consumer-grade fireworks mostly made up of paper and cardboard from a Phantom Fireworks store in Matamoras, Pa.

The attempted Times Square attack fizzled when the explosives in Shahzad’s vehicle produced smoke, but no blast. Shahzad later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison in the U.S.

On Tuesday, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg re-introduced legislation that would require background checks for anyone looking to buy explosive powder.

“It defies common-sense that anyone, even a terrorist, can walk into a store in America and buy explosive powders without a background check or any questions asked,” he said in a statement. “Requiring a background check for an explosives permit is a small price to pay to ensure the safety of our communities.”

OFFICIALS: ONLY ONE HANDGUN RECOVERED

Two U.S. officials said Wednesday that investigators have recovered only one handgun believed to have been used in a gun battle with police.

One official said the serial number on what they described as a 9 mm pistol was scratched off. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation still in progress.

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said over 250 rounds were fired in the shootout. Police said the men also used explosives. Davis also said shots were fired from the boat where Tsarnaev was found. It wasn’t clear whether he was armed when he was captured.

U.S. officials also said the Boston Marathon explosions were triggered by a remote-controlled detonator.

Two officials on Wednesday said the bombs were not very sophisticated. One of the officials described the detonator as “close-controlled” — meaning it had to be triggered within several blocks of the bombs.

LAWMAKERS WANT TO KNOW WHO KNEW WHAT

Meanwhile, lawmakers are asking tough questions about how the government tracked Tamerlan Tsarnaev when he traveled to Russia last year, renewing criticism from after the Sept. 11 attacks that failure to share intelligence may have contributed to the Boston bombings.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., says it doesn’t appear yet that anyone “dropped the ball.” But he is asking federal agencies for more information about who knew what about the suspect.

Conflicting stories appeared to emerge about which agencies knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s six-month trip to Russia last year how they handled it.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration legislation that her agency knew about Tsarnaev’s journey to his homeland.

Information-sharing failures between agencies prompted an overhaul of the U.S. intelligence system after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Read More About The Boston Marathon Bombings

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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