Even before authorities released photos of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev noticed something unusual two days after the bombing, when Tsarnaev showed up with his unruly hair cut short.
On Thursday, April 18, when the images of Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan were spread all over the news, his fellow students at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth began calling one another, the FBI says in a new affidavit.
Dias Kadyrbayev, one of three friends charged Wednesday with conspiring to obstruct justice or making false statements in the case, got a call from another one of the three, Robel Phillipos, who told him to “put the news on” when he got home. One of the suspects in the marathon bombings “looked familiar,” Phillipos said.
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Kadyrbayev recognized Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at once, the affidavit said, and he texted Tsarnaev to tell him so.
“Lol,” Tsarnaev texted back. And he sent another message: “I’m about to leave, if you need something in my room take it.”
What happened next forms the basis of the new federal charges filed against Kadyrbayev, 19, and his friend Azamat Tazhayakov, also 19. Authorities say they conspired to dispose of Tsarnaev’s backpack, filled with fireworks, and his laptop before FBI agents could search his room.
Phillipos, 19, is accused of knowing about what the other two did with the backpack and lying to FBI agents when questioned about it.
The three appeared in U.S. District Court in Boston pn Wednesday afternoon and their attorneys waived bail pending an additional hearing on May 14.
Afterward the lawyers denied that the young men knew before Tsarnaev’s arrest that he had been involved in the bombing and said they had no idea that his backpack was evidence in the case.
“He is just as shocked and horrified by the violence that took place in Boston as the rest of the community is,” Robert Stahl, Kadyrbayev’s lawyer, told reporters outside the courthouse.
If convicted on charges of conspiring to obstruct justice, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, both citizens of Kazakhstan who are in the U.S. on student visas, face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Phillipos, a U.S. citizen, faces up to eight years in prison and a $250,00 fine. He is charged with making false statements to federal agents.
According to the affidavit, all three young men met in Tsarnaev’s dormitory room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at about 6 p.m. on April 18, three days after the bombings and shortly after the bombing suspects’ photos were publicly released.
Tsarnaev’s roommate told them he had left a couple of hours earlier. As they sat down to watch a movie, they noticed Tsarnaev’s backpack. Looking inside, they found fireworks, some of which had been opened and emptied of powder, and a jar of Vaseline.
The three of them returned with Tsarnaev’s backpack and also his laptop to the New Bedford, Mass., apartment that Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov shared and continued to watch the news. The three of them “started to freak out,” Phillipos told agents later, “because it became clear from a CNN report that we were watching that [Dzhokhar] was one of the Boston Marathon bombers.”
Kadyrbayev told agents that he and Tazhayakov decided to get rid of the backpack to help their friend avoid getting in “trouble.”
“Do what you have to do,” Phillipos allegedly told the others.
Kadyrbayev said he placed the backpack and fireworks in a large trash bag and threw it into a garbage bin at the apartment sometime around 10 p.m.
The affidavit makes clear that Tsarnaev, as is already known, had returned to campus after the bombings and was attempting to live a fairly normal life.
Tazhayakov told agents that two days after the bombing, on April 17, Tsarnaev had visited at his apartment until midnight. The next day — the day his friend was publicly identified — Tazhayakov said he attended an afternoon class and got a ride home with Tsarnaev, who dropped him off about 4 p.m.
Within hours, Tamerlan Tsarnaev would be killed in a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass., and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would be on the run before being taken, seriously injured, into custody.
Law enforcement authorities said they recovered the backpack from a landfill in New Bedford, not far from the suspects’ apartment. Inside it were the fireworks, the jar of Vaseline, and a homework assignment sheet from one of Tsarnaev’s classes.
The court documents did not say what happened to the laptop.
After Wednesday’s court hearing, Stahl said the allegation that his client recognized Tsarnaev as one of the bombers right away is in “dispute” and said “his first inkling came much later.”
Likewise, he said, Kadyrbayev did not know the backpack’s potential connection to the bombing. “He did not know that those items were involved in a bombing, or were evidence in a bombing, or had evidentiary value,” he said.
Tazhayakov’s attorney, Harlan Protass, said his client has “cooperated fully” with the authorities.
“My client ... feels horrible, and was shocked to hear that someone he knew at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was involved with the Boston Marathon bombing,” he said.