NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- Two of three men charged drove a car with a novelty license plate that said "Terrorista #1" and the third described himself on YouTube as an "average guy."
To those who knew them, Dias Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov and Robel Phillipos didn't seem like the type of guys to impede the Boston Marathon bombing investigation or to lie about what they did, as prosecutors charged Wednesday. The three friends, all 19, all studied at the University of Massachusetts and are close to the surviving bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
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James Padgett, who also lives in the same dorm as Tsarnaev, said Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were seen often in their BMW. "Everybody knows them because of that car with the Terrorista plate," he said. "They peel in doing like 70, and you know it's them coming."
The plate, on Kadyrbayev's car, was a gag gift about his penchant for partying, said his attorney Robert Stahl.
Alex Robles, a friend of Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Tsarnaev, said the three enjoyed having a good time. "They're funny guys, good guys, real into music and cars," said Robles, of New Bedford, Mass. "They just laughed and told stories like normal college students. Nobody ever talked about hating America."
Phillipos, who graduated from the prestigious Cambridge Rindge and Latin School with Tsarnaev, spoke of making a difference. In a YouTube video done for a class assignment, Phillipos talks about what he'd do if he got rich. In the video, uploaded March 2012, he said, "I wasn't too poor, I wasn't too rich. I was, you know, an average guy."
But he spoke of helping the poor, having gone to Africa and seen "the depths of hell" among the poor: "I can definitely see myself giving a lot of money. Not only money, but actually trying to make a difference."
After the bombing, friends said the men and Tsarnaev behaved normally. "Dzhokhar looked tired, but he didn't look scared or worried," Robles said.
Nothing seemed out of place when Elma Bahytovich, 19, of New Bedford, ran into Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Dzhokhar the day after the attacks. "Dzhokhar said it was a 'crazy day' the day before," she said. "He was just laughing like usual. He wasn't even nervous."
She was shocked when she saw the suspects' photos and knocked on Tazhayakov's door. "Azamat was like, 'Go home, it's not him. Don't say you've seen him,' " she said.
Wednesday, Bahytovich had a second thought about her friends' car plate: "It was a joke, like a hip-hop thing. But if they helped a terrorist, it's not a joke."
Lindsey Pierce, a neighbor of Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, called the two "sweet kids" who loved washing their BMW and playing music: "They didn't seem to have jobs, but they lived the student life: girls, cars, just being young and on their own. They're not terrorists."
With Ann Givens