Federal officials charged three men Wednesday with conspiracy to obstruct justice and lying to authorities in the Boston Marathon bombing case. The complaint charges two friends of suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, with destroying and concealing a backpack containing fireworks and taking a laptop computer from Tsarnaev’s dorm room before the FBI could conduct a search. A third friend was charged with lying to authorities during the investigation.
The bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon two weeks ago, killing three and injuring hundreds more, were packed with fireworks gunpowder and shrapnel.
Boston police said earlier Wednesday that three suspects were arrested. NBC News confirmed the identities of the suspects: Dias Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov, and Robel Phillipos.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are originally from Kazakhstan and were studying at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth—where Tsarnaev was also a student—on student visas. Phillipos, another classmate from UMASS- Dartmouth, is an American citizen, according to the criminal complaint filed in court Wednesday.
All three men admitted that they took the items from Tsarnaev’s room after recognizing him in the FBI Wanted posters released to the public April 18. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov also admitted that they had agreed to get rid of the backpack and computer.
The men’s friendship with Tsarnaev dates back to the fall of 2011, when they all entered UMASS-Dartmouth. Kadyrbayev especially spent time with Tsarnaev and met his family members. The 21-year-old most recently met with Tsarnaev on April 17, two days after the bombings, and noted that Tsarnaev had cut his hair short.
A day later—after the FBI released still images from surveillance cameras showing Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, at the marathon—Kadyrbayev received a phone call from Phillipos telling him that one of the suspects looked familiar.
Kadyrbayev texted Tsarnaev after seeing the images and told him that he looked like one of the suspects.
Tsarnaev texted back, “LOL.”
Tsarnaev later responded with: “you better not text me,” and “come to my room and take whatever you want.”
On April 18, the three men were let into Tsarnaev’s dorm room by the suspect’s roommate. At first, the friends watched a movie, but they then noticed the backpack filled with fireworks that had been emptied of powder. From the criminal complaint:
“Kadyrbayev knew when he saw the empty fireworks that Tsarnaev was involved in the Marathon bombing. Kadyrbayev decided to remove the backpack from the room in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble. He decided to take Tsarnaev’s laptop as well because he did not want Tsarnaev’s roommate to think he was stealing or behaving suspiciously by just taking the backpack.”
Back at the apartment shared by Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, the three friends decided to toss the backpack and laptop in the trash in order to keep Tsarnaev out of trouble after seeing Tsarnaev positively identified as the bombing suspect. Kadyrbayev alone threw the items into the dumpster at the apartment complex, according to the FBI.
In three interviews with federal officers after Tsarnaev’s capture, Phillipos lied about going to the bombing suspect’s dorm room, prompting the charge that he “knowingly and willfully made materially false statements to federal investigators during a terrorism investigation.”
Investigators eventually found the black backpack that was tossed in the garbage at a New Bedford landfill. Officers found fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, and a homework assignment sheet from one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s UMASS-Dartmouth classes packed inside.
Tsarnaev was charged with using a “weapon of mass destruction” last week; his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with police.
Correction, May 2: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that three friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been charged with “destroying and concealing a backpack containing fireworks and taking a laptop computer from Tsarnaev’s dorm room.” Only two of the men, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov were charged with that count. The third man, Robel Phillipos, was charged with “knowingly and willfully made materially false statements to federal investigators during a terrorism investigation.”