Investigators charge 3 Tsarnaev friends

Accused of throwing away backpack with fireworks


THREE CURRENT OR FORMER UMASS-DARTMOUTH CLASSMATES of surviving marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to obstruct justice and destroy evidence. The three allegedly lied to investigators and threw away a laptop computer and a backpack containing emptied fireworks that belonged to Tsarnaev.

The three men – all 19-year-olds – were arrested and charged on Wednesday, and were expected to make an initial appearance in federal court in Boston before Magistrate Marianne Bowler.

Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov were roommates in New Bedford and friends of Tsarnaev’s at UMass Dartmouth where they attended college. Both are nationals of Kazakhstan and faces charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice by conspiring to destroy, conceal, and cover up tangible objects belonging to Tsarnaev.

A third man, Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, has been charged with willfully making materially false statements to federal law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation. Phillipos was also a friend of Tsarnaev’s.

The college classmates told investigators that on the evening of April 15, hours after the FBI released photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, identifying them as the suspected marathon bombers, they visited the younger brother’s dorm room on campus and removed a backpack and laptop computer, according to the criminal complaint.

After seeing Dzhokhar’s photo on the evening news, Kadyrbayev texted the bombing suspect to tell him he resembled the photos being shown on television. Tsarnaev responded with “lol” and other messages that Kadyrbayev said he interpreted to be jokes, including “you better not text me.”

Another text from Tsarnaev that appeared to be the last communication between the friends, according to the complaint, read: “I’m about to leave if you need anything in my room take it.” The friends told investigators that it wasn’t until they saw the items in Tsarnaev’s room that they became convinced their friend had been involved in the bombing.

The three friends were let into Tsarnaev’s dorm room by his roommate, and after watching a movie they noticed a dark backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their gunpowder. The men also found a jar of Vaseline that they presumed Tsarnaev used to “make bombs.”

Kadyrbayev said he removed the backpack from Tsarnaev’s room “to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble,” the complaint said.

The three students put the items in a trash bag and brought it to their New Bedford apartment. Phillipos told investigators that once they were at the apartment, the three students “started to freak out” as it became clear from TV reports that Dzhokhar was one of the suspected bombers. They discussed what to do with the backpack and the fireworks and later decided to throw the items in a dumpster. Phillipos, who changed his story multiple times when talking with police, said he took a nap that evening and when he woke up the backpack was gone.

Investigators recovered the backpack in a New Bedford landfill. It contained the fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, a UMass Dartmouth homework assignment sheet from one of Tsarnaev’s classes, and other items, the complaint said. It’s not clear from the court documents what happened to Tsarnaev’s laptop computer.

When the FBI searched Tsarnaev’s dorm room , they reported finding BBs, a large pyrotechnic, and a black jacket and white hat matching those worn by Tsarnaev in surveillance footage of the bomb scene on Boylston Street moments before the blasts.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and $250,000 fine. Phillipos faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In a televised press conference, an attorney for Kadyrbayev said his client “absolutely denies the charges,” was “shocked and horrified” by the violence at the marathon, and had assisted the FBI. An attorney for Tazhayakov said he “looks forward to the truth coming out in this case.”

UMass-Dartmouth officials on Wednesday initially referred all questions to the FBI, an agency that has said little publicly about its ongoing investigation into the bombings. “The University asks that all media respect the rights of our students and faculty during this final week of classes and preparation for finals and graduation,” a statement released by the university said.

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Later Wednesday, UMass officials said in a statement that Tazhayakov is currently enrolled, but has been suspended pending the outcome of the case, that Kadyrbayez is not currently enrolled, and that Phillipos is not currently enrolled.

“The campus status today has been normal throughout the day,” the statement said. “UMass Dartmouth will continue to fully cooperate with law enforcement authorities investigating the Boston Marathon tragedy, and is pleased that the Boston office of the FBI recently recognized the University’s efforts with the following statement to the University: “The FBI greatly appreciates the actions taken by your administration and the campus police department to ensure the safety of the students, faculty, staff, and neighboring community.”