BOSTON (AP) — Three college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were arrested and accused Wednesday of removing a backpack containing fireworks emptied of gunpowder from Tsarnaev’s dorm room three days after the attack to try to keep him from getting into trouble.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev are charged with conspiring to obstruct justice. A third man, Robel Phillipos, is charged with making false statements to federal investigators.
In court papers, the FBI said Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev agreed to throw the backpack in the garbage — it was later found in a landfill by law enforcement officers — after concluding from news reports that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was one of the bombers.
A court appearance for the three was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Their lawyers refused to comment ahead of the hearing.
Three people were killed and more than 260 injured on April 15 when two bombs exploded near the finish line. The suspect’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died after a gunfight with police several days later. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured and lies in a prison hospital.
Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, who came to the U.S. from Kazakhstan, have been held in jail for more than a week on allegations that they violated their student visas while attending college. All three men charged Wednesday began attending UMass with Tsarnaev at the same time in 2011, according to the FBI.
The three were not accused of any direct involvement in the bombing itself. But in a footnote in the court papers outlining the charges, the FBI said that about a month before the bombing, Tsarnaev told Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev that he knew how to make a bomb.
Authorities allege that on the night of April 18, after the FBI released photos of the bombing suspects and the three men suspected their friend was one of them, they went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room. The men noticed a backpack containing fireworks, which had been opened and emptied of powder.
The FBI said that Kadyrbayev knew when he saw the empty fireworks that Tsarnaev was involved in the bombings and decided to remove the backpack from the room “in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble.” He also decided to remove Tsarnaev’s laptop, the FBI said in the affidavit.
After the three men returned to Kadyrbayev’s and Tazhayakov’s apartment with the backpack and computer, they watched news reports featuring photographs of Tsarnaev.
The FBI affidavit says 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.
Meanwhile, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s relatives will claim his body now that his wife has agreed to release it, an uncle said. The body of Tsarnaev, 26, has been at the medical examiner’s office in Massachusetts since he died after a gunfight with authorities more than a week ago.
Amato DeLuca, the attorney for his widow, Katherine Russell, said Tuesday that his client had just learned that the medical examiner was ready to release Tsarnaev’s body and that she wants it released to his side of the family.
Police said Tsarnaev ran out of ammunition before his 19-year-old brother dragged his body under a vehicle while fleeing the scene. His cause of death has been determined but will not be made public until his remains are claimed.
“Of course, family members will take possession of the body,” uncle Ruslan Tsarni of Maryland said Tuesday night. “We’ll do it. We will do it. A family is a family.”
He would not elaborate. Tsarnaev’s parents are in Russia, but he has other relatives on his side of the family in the U.S., including Tsarni.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.