BOSTON (AP) — Just hours before one of the Boston Marathon suspects and his brother allegedly gunned down a campus police officer, authorities say he exchanged a series of text messages with a friend who’d become suspicious after seeing what looked like a familiar face being flashed on television.
Dias Kadyrbayev, a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, texted his college buddy Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, saying he looked like one of the bombing suspects.
“Tsarnaev’s return texts contained ‘lol’ and other things Kadyrbayev interpreted as jokes such as ‘you better not text me’ and ‘come to my room and take whatever you want,'” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
Those texts set off a series of events that on Wednesday led to Kadyrbayev and his roommate Azamat Tazhayakov, natives of Kazhakstan, being charged with conspiring to destroy emptied fireworks and other evidence linking their friend to the deadly April 15 blasts. Robel Phillipos, who graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School with Tsarnaev in 2011, was charged with lying to investigators about the April 18 visit to his friend’s dorm room to retrieve the items.
Tazhayakov also told authorities that during a meal about a month before the terror attacks, Tsarnaev informed him and Kadyrbayev “that he knew how to make a bomb.” That is significant because, before he was advised of his rights not to speak with authorities, the 19-year-old bombing suspect allegedly said that his older brother had only recently recruited him to be part of the attack.
Three people were killed and more than 260 wounded on April 15 when two bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died after a gunfight with police days later. Younger brother Dzhokhar was captured and remains in a prison hospital.
According to the FBI account, just hours after surveillance camera photos of the two suspects were flashed around the world April 18, Tsnarnaev’s friends suspected he was one of the bombers and removed the backpack along with a laptop from Tsarnaev’s room at UMass Dartmouth.
One of them later threw the backpack in the garbage, and it wound up in a landfill, where it was discovered by law enforcement officers last week, authorities said. In the backpack were fireworks that had been emptied of their gunpowder.
Investigators have not said whether the pressure cooker bombs used in the attacks were made with gunpowder extracted from fireworks.
The lawyers for the Kazakh students said their clients had nothing to do with the bombing and were just as shocked by the crime as everyone else. Phillipos’ attorney, Derege Demissie, said outside court: “The only allegation is he made a misrepresentation.”
The Kazakh students did not request bail at a court hearing and will be held for another hearing May 14. Phillipos was held for a hearing on Monday. 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.
The mother of the Tsarnaev brothers has said the allegations against her sons are lies.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov have been in jail for more than a week on allegations they were in violation of their student visas, one because he was skipping classes, the other because he was no longer enrolled.
Tazhayakov was allowed to return to the U.S. from Kazakhstan in January despite not having a valid student visa, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press. His student visa status had been terminated because he was academically dismissed from the university, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
All three men charged Wednesday began attending UMass with Tsarnaev in 2011, according to the FBI.
Kadyrbayev, an engineering major, said he and Tazhayakov hung out with Tsarnaev on and off campus. The three often spoke Russian among themselves.
He told authorities he became “better friends” with Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechan, in spring 2012, and that he was a frequent visitor to the Tsarnaev home in Cambridge.
The FBI said that before Tsarnaev’s roommate let the three friends into the room, Kadyrbayev received 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 unclear from the court papers whether authorities believe that was an instruction from Tsarnaev to destroy evidence.
Once inside Tsarnaev’s room, the men watched a movie. At some point, they noticed a backpack containing more than a half-dozen fireworks, each about 8 inches long, according to the affidavit. The black powder had been scooped out.
The FBI said that Kadyrbayev knew when he saw the fireworks that Tsarnaev was involved in the bombings and decided to remove the backpack “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.
After the three returned to Kadyrbayev’s and Tazhayakov’s apartment with the backpack and computer, they watched news reports featuring photographs of Tsarnaev. The FBI 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, according to court papers.
When the backpack was later found, inside it was a UMass-Dartmouth homework assignment sheet from a class Tsarnaev was taking, the FBI said.
The court papers do not say what happened to the laptop.
In a footnote, the FBI said: “Tazhayakov also informed the FBI agents that while eating a meal with Dzhokhar and Kadrybayev approximately one month prior to the marathon bombing, Dzhokhar had explained to Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov that he knew how to make a bomb.”
Robert Stahl, an attorney for Kadyrbayev, said his client “absolutely denies the charges” and didn’t know that the backpack and fireworks were part of the bombing case. Kadyrbayev is “just as shocked and horrified by the violence in Boston that took place as the rest of the community is,” the lawyer said.
He also denied that Kadyrbayev instantly recognized Tsarnaev’s photo and said Kadyrbayev didn’t know Tsarnaev was involved in the bombing: “His first inkling came much later,” he said.
Tazhayakov’s lawyer, Harlan Protass, said Tazhayakov “feels horrible and was shocked to hear that someone he knew at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was involved with the Boston Marathon bombing.”
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov lived at an off-campus apartment in New Bedford, about 60 miles south of Boston, and got around in a car registered to Kadyrbayev with a souvenir plate that read “Terrorista (hash)1.” The car was pictured on Tsarnaev’s Twitter feed in March.
The plate was a gag gift from some of Kadyrbayev’s friends, meant to invoke his penchant for late-night partying rather than his political sentiments, Kadyrbayev’s lawyer said last week.