Three close teenage friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were charged yesterday in federal court with covering up evidence of their friend’s involvement in the bombing. They are accused of disposing of Tsarnaev’s laptop and backpack in the frenzied days after the bombing to hide his connection to the vicious attack that killed three people and injured more than 260.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, two wealthy students from Kazakhstan, and Robel Phillipos, a U.S. citizen, all 19 years old, appeared before a federal judge, Marianne Bowler, in a brief hearing in Boston on Wednesday afternoon.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a fine of $250,000. Phillipos was charged with making false statements to federal investigators, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years and a fine of $250,000.
The criminal complaint against them traced their actions after the shock of learning that their close friend might have been involved in the terrorist attack and also revealed just how skilled Tsarnaev was at concealing his plans leading up to the bombing.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov shared an apartment in the nearby town of New Bedford and Phillipos was friends with Tsarnaev from their days together at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. Though the criminal complaint said Tsarnaev met the Kazakhstan students when all three attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth together, Kadyrbayev’s lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client was an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
This is how the relationship was described by the New York Times: “The Kazakhs seemingly had money and drove expensive cars. They entertained Mr. Tsarnaev at their off-campus apartment, and he partied with them in New York. One of them lent Mr. Tsarnaev a black BMW after he smashed his Honda Civic in an accident.”
The complaint said Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov recognized Tsarnaev from pictures released by authorities four days after the attack, prompting Kadyrbayev to send text messages to Tsarnaev about the resemblance. Tsarnaev reportedly replied, “Lol”, “You better not text me,” and “Come to my room and take whatever you want.”
The Kazakh pair then went with Phillipos to Tsarnaev’s dorm room at Pine Dale Hall, where they were admitted by Tsarnaev’s unnamed roommate, who told them he had left some hours earlier. While watching a movie in the room, they noticed a backpack containing seven red tubes of fireworks, emptied of their explosive powder. According to the FBI, Kadyrbayev, now certain of Tsarnaev’s involvement in the bombings, admitted to agents that he decided to remove the backpack “in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble.”
The trio also removed Tsarnaev’s laptop, which they took so as not to alert the roommate’s suspicions about the backpack. When they went back to the New Bedford apartment, Kadyrbayev later threw the backpack into a dumpster, according to the affidavit. Law enforcement officers later recovered the backpack and its contents from a landfill waste site.
Though the FBI first detained and questioned the trio four days after the Boston bombings, after they were released Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were taken back into custody and held by immigration authorities, accused of having overstayed their student visas.
According to the complaint, Phillipos lied to investigators when he was first questioned, insisting that he had not played any role in the disposal of the evidence.
Though the criminal charge sheet doesn’t suggest that the three accused men were involved in planning the marathon bombings on April 15, the FBI said that about a month before the bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev that he knew how to make a bomb.
Outside court in Boston, Stahl, representing Kadyrbayev, said his client and his family were “just as shocked and horrified by the violence in Boston” as the rest of the country, and that Kadyrbayev “had nothing to do” with it.
Harlan Protass, representing Tazhayakov, also said his client was cooperating with the authorities. “He was shocked to hear that someone who he knew was involved in the Boston Marathon bombing.
“He considers it an honor to be able to study in the United States, and he feels for the people of Boston who have suffered,” Protass said.