Prosecutors seeking the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev depict him as part of a disturbing global movement, the rise of “lone-wolf” terrorists. They argue that the 21-year-old man showed the tell-tale signs: a fascination with jihadist material on the Internet and a preference to work alone, or in a small group, says the Boston Globe. The government's portrayal of Tsarnaev opens up an opportunity for the defense, which began its case yesterday, as it seeks to illustrate how Tsarnaev was troubled and easily influenced by others, particularly his older brother. Studies show that these attackers are often emotionally vulnerable individuals who can be converted to a new cause rather quickly, terrorism experts say.
“Terrorists express a political aim, otherwise they aren't terrorists. But that aim doesn't mean it's driving their behavior,” said Max Abrahms, a political science professor at Northeastern University. Liah Greenfeld, a Boston University professor who specializes in nationalism and modern culture, said that she sees a desperate personal crisis in many lone-wolf terrorists, and believes their deadly missions are often meant, often unconsciously, to target themselves. “Very often these lone wolves cannot commit suicide, they commit suicide by cop,” she said. Though Tsarnaev's defense team has begun to present witnesses, they may save most of their case for the penalty phase, when the jury will decide whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison.