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1 May, 2013 15:24

Three new suspects taken into custody in Boston Marathon bombing case

Three new suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing case have been taken into custody, the city’s police department announced Wednesday.

Nineteen-year-old University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth college students Azamat Tazhayakov, Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos have been accused of interfering with a federal probe into the April 15, 2013 terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.

Authorities unsealed a criminal complaint against the men Wednesday afternoon and they were arraigned during 3:30 p.m. hearing in a Massachusetts courthouse. The Boston Globe reported that attorneys for the men waived bail and will remain in detention until arguments begin later this month.

Investigators say the three students were classmates of suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, also 19, and attempted to hinder an investigation by destroying evidence they uncovered from his UMass-Dartmouth dormitory room three days after the marathon bombing.

Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov (photos from Facebook)

All three have admitted on that on the evening of April 18, 2013, they removed Tsarnaev’s backpack from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room,” reads the complaint. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, both Kazakhstan nationals, “have admitted that they agreed to get rid of it after concluding from news reports that Tsarnaev was one of the Boston Marathon bombers,” it continues.

The two Kazakhstan citizens were in the US on student visas and were apprehended by authorities over a week ago for alleged immigration violations; they have been accused of hiding evidence. Authorities have identified Phillipos as a US citizen who was also enrolled at Dartmouth and he is accused of making false statements to the FBI.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation complaint unsealed this week, the three students first considered their classmate as a possible suspect in the bombing after the FBI released images on April 18 of two men sought in connection to the blasts. Authorities later identified the two men as ethnic Chechens: Dzhokhar and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Approximately four hours after photos of the Tsarnaev brothers first began to be widely circulated on the afternoon of April 18, the FBI says Phillipos told Kadyrbayev to put on the news when he got home “because one of the suspects in the Marathon bombing suspect looked familiar. Once he turned on the TV, Kadyrbayev texted Tazhayakov’s cell phone to ask, “Have you seen the news?”

Shortly after, the complaint continues, Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Phillipos went to Tsarnaev’s Dartmouth dorm room and were let in by a roommate. There they stayed for a considerable amount of time watching a movie and eventually made contact with the 19-year-old suspect.

The photo of Robel Phillipos released by a local TV channel

Investigators say that Tsarnaev and Kadyrbayev exchanged text messages that evening during which the suspected bomber said things like “lol” and “you better not text me” that were interpreted by his classmate as jokes. Just before 9 p.m., Tsarnaev wrote “come to my room and take whatever you want.”

"They noticed a backpack containing fireworks ,” reads the complaint. “

The fireworks had been opened and emptied of powder. 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." The three suspects then moved to an apartment shared by Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov and “started to freak out” because it became clear from a news report they were watching that Tsarnaev was likely one of the bombers.

According to Kadyrbayev, they then collectively decided to throw the backpack and fireworks into the trash because they did not want Tsarnaev to get into trouble,” the complaint continues.

Dias Kadyrbayev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Photo from Vkontakte)

The FBI says that that Tazhayakov and Phillipos declined to participate in taking the trash to the dumpster, but knew their colleague did so nonetheless. The next morning the three men learned that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed the night before and the FBI began the first of several interviews with the classmates. On April 19, Phillipos spoke with investigators but concealed the fact that he was at Tsarnaev’s dorm room the night before, writes the FBI. Authorities say he changed his story during the second of four conversations that occurred during that week, but on April 26 he confessed to lying to FBI agents during the previous interviews. During that discussion, Phillipos admitted to finding “seven red tubular fireworks” in Tsarnaev’s backpack.

On April 26, authorities uncovered the backpack and contents from a landfill in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts. The two Kazakhstan nationals have been accused of hiding a laptop computer and backpack belonging to one of the suspected bombers, and Phillipos faces charges of making false statements to investigators.

Azamat Tazhayakov absolutely denies the charges,” his attorney Harlan Protass told reporters outside of court on Wednesday. “Azamat feels horrible and was shocked to hear that someone he knew at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was involved in the Boston Marathon bombing.”

Robert Stahl, an attorney representing Kadyrbayev, said his client “cooperated with all law enforcement when they came to him without the benefit of counsel” and disputed claims that he conspired with Tsarnaev to dispose of evidence.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and $250,000 fine, reports Reuters, and will next be in court on May 14. Phillipos faces a maximum of eight years behind bars and a $250,000 fine; he’ll be back in a Massachusetts courthouse on Monday, May 6.

Three people died after a pair of improvised explosive devices were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and more than 260 others are still recuperating from injuries incurred at the event. Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if convicted of using a weapon of mass destruction.