Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev makes rare court appearance

BOSTON (AFP) - Shaggy-haired, bearded and attentive, accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made his first public appearance in 17 months on Thursday at a brief court hearing before his trial next month.

Tension was high at the US federal court in the north-eastern city where the April 15, 2013 attack killed three people and wounded 264 - the worst such incident in the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

A woman yelled out support for Tsarnaev in Russian at the end of the hearing. On the way into court, one of the victims angrily showed his artificial leg to demonstrators proclaiming the suspect's innocence.

Dressed in a black sweater and gray pants, a skinny 21-year-old Tsarnaev with unruly curls sat between two female lawyers in the packed court room to hear preparations for his Jan 5 trial.

He answered questions from Judge George O'Toole calmly and quietly in the brief session that lasted less than half an hour.

"Very much so," he said when asked if he was satisfied with his representation.

Tsarnaev is accused of carrying out the attacks with his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police, and faces the death penalty.

He pleads not guilty to 30 charges.

The attacks plunged Boston's world-famous marathon into mourning and revived fears of terrorism in the United States more than a decade after the Al-Qaeda hijackings.

- Trial could last months -

Thursday's hearing was the first time he has been seen in public since entering his not guilty plea in July 2013.

At the time he was suffering from injuries from his time on the run. On Thursday he seemed in good health.

At the end, Elena Teyer, whose son-in-law Ibragim Todashev was shot dead by an FBI agent while being questioned in May 2013 about his friendship with Tamerlan, cried out in Russian.

"You have a lot of supporters. We all pray for you, we all know you're innocent," she said. "Stop killing innocent people!" she added in English before being forced out.

Families of the victims, with drawn faces, were separated from the rest of the public in the gallery.

Marc Fucarile, who lost a leg in the attacks, walked into court with the help of a cane.

"That's trickery?" he demanded, showing his artificial leg to two demonstrators who held up placards questioning the FBI investigation.

The charges against Tsarnaev include conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and bombing a public place resulting in death.

He and Tamerlan are accused of planting two pressure cooker bombs hidden in backpacks near the finish line of the marathon.

He is also charged in connection with the shooting death of a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the brothers' wild overnight getaway attempt.

Initially scheduled for Nov 3, his trial is now due to begin on Jan 5 with jury selection, which could take several weeks.

The trial itself could take two to three months.

- Inspired by Al-Qaeda magazine -

Tsarnaev is being held at Fort Devens prison hospital, home to 1,095 prisoners, around 70 km from the Boston court.

His lawyers say he is held largely in isolation and subject to tight restrictions imposed by Attorney General Eric Holder in August 2013.

A Muslim of part-Chechen descent, Tsarnaev emigrated with his family to the United States in 2002 and became a naturalised American citizen in 2012.

He allegedly scrawled a rambling explanation of his motives for the Boston attacks on an interior wall of the boat, where he was arrested in a suburban backyard several days after the attacks.

"The US government is killing our innocent civilians," Tsarnaev wrote.

"I can't stand to see such evil go unpunished ... we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.

"Now, I don't like killing innocent people, it is forbidden in Islam, but ... stop killing our innocent people and we will stop."

He moved to Boston from Dagestan with his family at the age of eight and is said to be profoundly affected by his background and early childhood in Kyrgyzstan.

Prosecutors say the brothers, who appear to have acted alone, prepared bombs based on instructions in Al-Qaeda's English-language magazine "Inspire."