WASHINGTON (AP) — One of three college students arrested Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombings case was allowed to return to the United States from Kazakhstan in January despite not having a valid student visa, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Authorities charged the students — friends and classmate of one of the men accused of setting off the deadly explosions — with helping after the attacks to remove a laptop and backpack from the bombing suspect’s dormitory room before the FBI searched it.
The visa disclosure was another instance of possible lapses by the federal government in the months before the Boston bombings. The Obama administration earlier this week announced an internal review of how US intelligence agencies shared sensitive information and whether the government could have disrupted the attack. Republicans in Congress have promised oversight hearings starting next week.
Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested three college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a bombing suspect, including Azamat Tazhayakov, a friend and classmate of Tsarnaev’s at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Tazhayakov left the US in December and returned January 20. But in early January, his student-visa status was terminated because he was academically dismissed from the university, the official told the AP.
The law enforcement official said information about Tazhayakov’s status was in the Homeland Security Department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, called SEVIS, when Tazhayakov arrived in New York in January.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss details of Tazhayakov’s immigration history.
DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said when Tazhayakov arrived on January 20, Customs and Border Protection officials had not been notified that he was no longer a student.
“DHS has recently reformed the student visa system to ensure that CBP is provided with real time updates on all relevant student visa information,” Boogaard said. “At the time of re-entry there was no derogatory information that suggested this individual posed a national security or public safety threat.”
Tazhayakov and another student from Kazakhstan, Dias Kadyrbayev, were detained last month on immigration charges. They were arrested on federal criminal charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Robel Phillipos, 19, was also arrested and charged with willfully making materially false statements to federal law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation.
On Wednesday, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev appeared in court and waived bail, agreeing to voluntarily detention. Their next hearing is scheduled for May 14. Phillipos appeared Wednesday in court, where a hearing was scheduled for Monday.
Questions about Tazhayakov’s immigration status came up Wednesday during an immigration hearing in Boston when a judge questioned how he was able to return to the U.S. in January. A lawyer for Tazhayakov said he had re-enrolled in the university with a different major after returning to the country.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.