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Trio got rid of evidence from dorm: FBI

Allegations college buddies tried to help Boston bombing suspects

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This courtroom sketch shows defendants Dias Kadyrbayev (left) and Azamat Tazhayakov appearing in front of  federal magistrate Marianne Bowler at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, Wednesday.

JANE FLAVELL COLLINS / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

This courtroom sketch shows defendants Dias Kadyrbayev (left) and Azamat Tazhayakov appearing in front of federal magistrate Marianne Bowler at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, Wednesday.

WASHINGTON -- Shortly after the FBI released photos of two Boston bombing suspects on April 18, several college friends texted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on their cellphones. One said Tsarnaev looked like suspect No. 2, who wore a white cap backward over tufts of brown curls.

"LOL," Tsarnaev texted back. Later, he wrote again: "Come to my room and take whatever you want."

That night, according to an FBI complaint filed Wednesday in Boston, three young men entered Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where they met as students, and removed a laptop and a backpack full of fireworks that had been emptied of gunpowder. They then dumped the material in the trash, the complaint alleges.

Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19-year-olds from Kazakhstan, were charged in federal court Wednesday with conspiracy to obstruct justice. Robel Phillipos, also 19, from Cambridge, Mass., was charged with making false statements to federal law enforcement officials. Their lawyers waived bail pending a hearing May 14. 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.

Investigators do not believe the three helped plan the twin bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260 others during the Boston Marathon on April 15. The two Kazakh students were arrested April 20 on suspicion of violations of immigration law, and Phillipos was taken into custody Wednesday.

Kadyrbayev's lawyer, Robert G. Stahl, told reporters his client "absolutely denies the charges" that he tried to obstruct the investigation. He said the sophomore engineering student did not know the items they discarded were of "any evidential value."

Tazhayakov's lawyer, Harlan Protass, said his client "has co-operated fully with the authorities and looks forward to the truth coming out in this case."

Tazhayakov has been suspended from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth pending the outcome of his case. Kadyrbayev and Phillipos are not currently enrolled, university spokesman Robert Lamontagne said in a statement.

Tsarnaev, 19, is in custody on federal charges he planted one of the homemade bombs that exploded along the marathon route. His brother, Tamerlan, 26, who authorities believe directed the plot, died after a shootout with police April 19.

The younger Tsarnaev met the two Kazakh students in 2011, and he soon was spending time at their off-campus apartment in nearby New Bedford. In March, he posted a picture on his Twitter feed of a vanity licence plate on Kadyrbayev's car: "Terrorista #1."

According to the FBI complaint, Tsarnaev's roommate let Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Phillipos into a university dormitory room about 6 p.m. on April 18, shortly after the FBI had asked the public to help identify two suspects captured on surveillance cameras.

Kadyrbayev saw empty boxes and husks of fireworks inside a backpack, and noted the explosive powder had been removed, the FBI complaint said. A month before the bombings, Tsarnaev told his friends he knew how to build a bomb, according to the complaint.

Kadyrbayev and the two others took the fireworks remnants, a laptop computer, some of Tsarnaev's homework papers, and a jar of Vaseline from the dorm to the apartment in New Bedford. Experts say Vaseline may have been used to seal the homemade bombs.

Phillipos later told investigators after watching news reports that evening, the two Kazakh students "started to freak out, because it became clear from a CNN report that we were watching that Jahar (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev) was one of the Boston Marathon bombers."

At one point, about 11 p.m., Kadyrbayev asked whether he should "get rid of the stuff," the complaint says. Phillipos replied, "Do what you have to do," and then took a nap, he told investigators.

Kadyrbayev stuffed the backpack into a black trash bag and put it into a Dumpster outside, according to prosecutors. He later told investigators he wanted "to help his friend... avoid trouble," they said.

-- Tribune Washington Bureau with AP files

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 A13

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