Azamat Tazhayakov, Dias Kadyrbayev, Robel Phillipos charged in Boston Marathon bombing case
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BOSTON -- Two college friends of marathon bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were charged Wednesday with trying to hide his laptop and backpack in an effort to conceal the 19-year-old's role in the attacks.
Dias Kadyrbayev, 19, and Azamat Tazhayakov, 19, were charged with willfully conspiring to commit an offense against the United States by destroying or concealing items to impede or influence a criminal investigation.
A third friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge, Mass., was charged Wednesday with lying to federal investigators during a terrorism investigation. Authorities said he lied when he told agents he had not gone into Tsarnaev's dorm room and did not remember anything being removed.
The three appeared Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Boston, shackled hand and foot.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, both Kazakh nationals, face a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and $250,000 fine. Phillipos, a U.S. citizen, faces a maximum sentence of 8 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
They waived a bail hearing and said they can afford lawyers. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are due back in court May 14. Phillipos is scheduled to have a bail and probable cause hearing Monday.
During his appearance, Phillipos was scolded by U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler for being inattentive during the proceedings.
"I suggest you pay attention to me instead of looking down," she told him.
A law enforcement source said investigators first learned of the three suspects by looking at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's cellphone and text logs.
Also Wednesday, that source said investigators are aware that Katherine Russell, Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife, spoke with her husband after she saw his photograph on television identified by the FBI as a bombing suspect. He was killed in a shootout with police early on the morning of April 19. "We believe she was aware that he was one of the people whose photo was released," he said.
She did not alert authorities that it was her husband, the source said, adding that Russell has been less than forthcoming with authorities in recent days.
He also confirmed reports that investigators in Dagestan are trying to find out whether militant recruiter/leader Mansur Mukhamed Nidal spent time with Tamerlan Tsarnaev during the dead bombing suspect's trip to Russia last year. The source also confirmed reports that investigators want to know whether Nidal gave him any training or encouraged his radicalization. Nidal was killed by Russian authorities while Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in the country, the source said.
Investigators said the three men charged Wednesday knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev's younger brother Dzhokhar because they had all been students at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
In court filings, federal prosecutors said the three worked "collectively" after figuring out in the days following the bombings that their friend was a prime suspect in the April 15 blasts. Three people died and at least 260 were injured in the bombings, which took place near the finish line of the Boston Marathon amid a packed crowd of onlookers.
After authorities publicized the suspects' images April 18, Kadyrbayev sent Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a text to say he looked like the suspect, the FBI said. Tsarnaev's reply contained "lol," shorthand for "laugh out loud," along with "you better not text me" and "come to my room and take whatever you want," comments that Kadyrbayev interpreted as jokes, court papers said.
The three then went to Tsarnaev's dorm room and were let in by a roommate, papers said.
They noticed a backpack. Upon opening it, they found about seven firework tubes that were emptied of powder, court papers said.
"This discovery frightened Tazhayakov because the powder had been emptied from the tube," prosecutors said.
Then they spotted a jar of Vaseline, court papers said, and Kadyrbayev told the others that he believed Tsarnaev had used the Vaseline "to make bombs," court papers said.
"Kadyrbayev decided to remove the backpack from the room in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble," the complaint said. "He decided to take Tsarnaev's laptop as well because he did not want Tsarnaev's roommate to think he was stealing or behaving suspiciously by just taking the backpack."
At Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov's New Bedford apartment, Kadyrbayev asked the men "if he should get rid of the stuff," and Phillipos replied, "do what you have to do," the complaint said.
Kadyrbayev told agents he then threw a black trash bag containing the backpack and fireworks into a trash bin near his apartment, court papers said.
At their hearing Wednesday, Asst. U.S. Attorney Stephanie Seigmann said Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were in the United States on student visas and had violated the terms of those visas. She described them as serious flight risks.
Kadyrbayev's lawyer said in court that he disputes that his client is in the United States illegally and will fight removal proceedings against him.
After the hearing, attorney Robert Stahl said Kadyrbayev was "as shocked by the violence as the rest of the community" and did not know the items he removed were potential evidence. "He assisted the FBI," Stahl said. "He is very sorry for what happened here in Boston. He did not have anything to do with that."
He said Kadyrbayev is a sophomore engineering student at the university. The visa dispute occurred because he was not attending classes regularly this semester, Stahl said.
Tazhayakov's lawyer, Harlan Protass, said his client too has "cooperated fully with the authorities." He said Tazhayakov considers it an honor to study in the United States and feels terrible about the bombings.
The university issued a statement saying Tazhayakov is currently enrolled but was suspended pending the charges and that the other two were not enrolled.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of people injured in the Boston Marathon bombings. At least 260 people were injured.