Three university friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were arrested and accused of trying to protect him by going into his dorm room and getting rid of a backpack filled with hollowed-out fireworks three days after the deadly attack.
The three 19-year-olds, including two born in Kazakhstan, were not accused of any role in the bombing itself. However, in a footnote in the court papers outlining the charges, the FBI said that about a month before the tragedy, Tsarnaev told two of them that he knew how to make a bomb.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, who both came to the US from Kazakhstan, were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice by concealing and destroying evidence. Robel Phillipos, who graduated from a Cambridge, Massachusetts, high school with Tsarnaev, was charged with lying to investigators about the visit to Tsarnaev’s room.
According to the FBI account, just hours after surveillance camera photos of the Boston Marathon suspects were flashed around the world on April 18, Tsnarnaev’s friends suspected he was one of the bombers and removed the backpack along with a laptop from Tsarnaev’s room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
One of them later threw the backpack in the garbage and it wound up in a landfill, where it was discovered by law enforcement officers last week, authorities said. In the backpack were fireworks that had been emptied of their gunpowder.
The lawyers for the Kazakh students said their clients had nothing to do with the bombing and were just as shocked by the crime as everyone else.
Phillipos’ attorney, Derege Demissie, said outside the court: “The only allegation is he made a misrepresentation.”
At a court appearance, the Kazakh students did not request bail and will be held for another hearing on May 14. Phillipos was held for a hearing on Monday.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov have been in jail for more than a week on allegations they were in violation of their student visas, one because he was skipping classes, the other because he was no longer enrolled. Tazhayakov was allowed to return to the US from Kazakhstan in January despite not having a valid student visa, a federal law enforcement official said.
The FBI said that before Tsarnaev’s roommate let the three friends into his dorm room, Kadyrbayev received a text message from Tsarnaev that read: “I’m about to leave if you need something in my room take it,” according to the FBI. When Tazhayakov learned of the message, “he believed he would never see Tsarnaev alive again,” the FBI said in the affidavit.
Once inside Tsarnaev’s room, the men noticed a backpack containing fireworks, which had been opened and emptied of gunpowder, the FBI said. The FBI said that Kadyrbayev knew when he saw the fireworks that Tsarnaev was involved in the bombings and decided to remove the backpack “in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble.”
Kadyrbayev also decided to remove Tsarnaev’s laptop.
The FBI said Kadyrbayev told authorities the three men then “collectively decided to throw the backpack and fireworks into the trash because they did not want Tsarnaev to get into trouble.”