BOSTON – Three college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were arrested and accused Wednesday of removing a backpack containing hollowed-out fireworks from Tsarnaev’s dorm room three days after the attack to keep him from getting into trouble.
In court papers, the FBI said one of them threw the backpack in the garbage – it was later found in a landfill by law enforcement officers – after they concluded from news reports that Tsarnaev was one of the bombers.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, who are from Kazakhstan, were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice by concealing and destroying evidence. A third man, Robel Phillipos, was charged with lying to investigators about the visit to Tsarnaev’s room.
At a court appearance in the afternoon, the Kazakh men did not request bail and will be held for another hearing May 14. Phillipos was held for a hearing on Monday. Their lawyers refused to comment ahead of the proceeding.
Three people were killed and more than 260 injured on April 15 when two bombs exploded near the finish line. Suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a gunfight with police several days later. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured and lies in a hospital prison.
Investigators have not said whether the pressure cooker bombs used in the attacks were made with gunpowder extracted from fireworks.
Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev have been held in jail for more than a week on allegations that they violated their student visas by not regularly going to class at UMassachusetts. All three men charged Wednesday began attending UMass with Tsarnaev at the same time in 2011, according to the FBI.
The three were not accused of any involvement in the bombing itself. But in a footnote in the court papers, the FBI said that about a month before the bombing, Tsarnaev told Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev that he knew how to make a bomb.
If convicted, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov could get up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Phillipos faces a maximum of eight years behind bars and a $250,000 fine.
Authorities allege that on the night of April 18, after the FBI released surveillance-camera photos of the bombing suspects and the three men suspected their friend was one of them, they went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room.
Before Tsarnaev’s roommate let them in, Kadyrbayev showed Tazhayakov 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.
It was not clear from the court papers whether authorities believe that was an instruction from Tsarnaev to his friends to destroy evidence.
Once inside Tsarnaev’s room, the men noticed a backpack containing fireworks, which had been opened and emptied of powder, the FBI said.
The FBI said that Kadyrbayev knew when he saw the empty fireworks that Tsarnaev was involved in the bombings and decided to remove the backpack from the room “in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble.”
Kadyrbayev also decided to remove Tsarnaev’s laptop “because he did not want Tsarnaev’s roommate to think he was stealing or behaving suspiciously by just taking the backpack,” the FBI said in court papers.
After the three men returned to Kadyrbayev’s and Tazhayakov’s apartment with the backpack and computer, they watched news reports featuring photographs of Tsarnaev.
The FBI affidavit 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.”
Kadyrbayev said he placed the backpack and fireworks along with trash from the apartment into a large trash bag and threw it into a garbage bin near the men’s apartment.
When the backpack was later found in a landfill last week, inside it was a UMass-Dartmouth homework assignment sheet from a class Tsarnaev was taking, the FBI said.
Earlier today, Boston Police announced via their official Twitter account that three more suspects were taken into custody.
The following tweet was sent Wednesday morning:
Three additional suspects taken into custody in Marathon bombing case. Details to follow. — Boston Police Dept. (@Boston_Police) May 1, 2013
Shortly after, Boston Police sent another tweet:
Meanwhile, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s relatives will claim his body now that his wife has agreed to release it, an uncle said. The body of Tsarnaev, 26, has been at the medical examiner’s office in Massachusetts since he died after a gunfight with authorities more than a week ago.
Amato DeLuca, an attorney for his widow, Katherine Russell, said Tuesday that his client had just learned that the medical examiner was ready to release Tsarnaev’s body and that she wants it released to his side of the family.
Police said Tsarnaev ran out of ammunition before his 19-year-old brother dragged his body under a vehicle while fleeing the scene. His cause of death has been determined but will not be made public until his remains are claimed.
“Of course, family members will take possession of the body,” uncle Ruslan Tsarni of Maryland said Tuesday night. “We’ll do it. We will do it. A family is a family.”
He would not elaborate. Tsarnaev’s parents are still in Russia, but he has other relatives on his side of the family in the U.S., including Tsarni.
Tsarnaev’s father, Anzor, announced plans last week to travel to the U.S. in the hope of burying his elder son, but he told the AP on Wednesday that those plans are off because he is suffering from bad headaches and high blood pressure. The 46-year-old Tsarnaev said he still hopes to go when he is feeling better.
Dzhokhar was wounded in the shootout with police as he and his brother made their getaway attempt. He is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, a crime that carries a potential death sentence.
Russian agents placed the older suspect under surveillance during a six-month visit to southern Russia last year, then scrambled to find him when he suddenly disappeared after police killed a Canadian jihadist, a security official told the AP.
U.S. law enforcement officials have been trying to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev was indoctrinated or trained by militants during his visit to Dagestan, a Caspian Sea province that has become the centre of a simmering Islamic insurgency.
The security official with the Anti-Extremism Center, a federal agency under Russia’s Interior Ministry, confirmed the Russians shared their concerns. He said that Russian agents were watching Tsarnaev, and that they searched for him when he disappeared two days after the July 2012 death of the Canadian man, who had joined the Islamic insurgency in the region. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Security officials suspected ties between Tsarnaev and the Canadian – an ethnic Russian named William Plotnikov – according to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which is known for its independence and investigative reporting and cited an unnamed official with the Anti-Extremism Center, which tracks militants. The newspaper said the men had social networking ties that brought Tsarnaev to the attention of Russian security services for the first time in late 2010.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday at a news conference that the U.S. counterterrorism bureaucracy “did what it was supposed to be doing” before the Boston Marathon bombing as his top intelligence official began a review into whether sensitive information was adequately shared and whether the U.S. government could have disrupted the attack.
In Rhode Island, DeLuca said Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow met with law enforcement “for many hours over the past week” and will continue co-operating. FBI agents on Monday visited her parents’ North Kingstown, Rhode Island, home, where she has been staying, and carried away several bags.
With files from Global News
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Michelle R. Smith in Providence; Rodrique Ngowi in Boston; Lynn Berry in Moscow; Arsen Mollyaev in Makhachkala, Russia; and Eric Tucker, Alicia A. Caldwell, Eileen Sullivan and AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier in Washington
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