Two 19-year-old Kazakh friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were indicted by a federal grand jury on claims they hindered the probe into the April 15 attack to protect their classmate.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both Kazakhstan citizens living in Massachusetts on student visas, were charged today with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstructing justice to impede the investigation, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston said in a statement.
The two friends are accused in the indictment of removing a laptop computer and backpack holding fireworks from Tsarnaev’s college dormitory room on April 18 after authorities released pictures of Tsarnaev at the scene of the attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. They also agreed to dispose of the bag in a dumpster near their apartment complex, according to the indictment.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, if convicted, face as long as 20 years in prison on the obstruction count and five years on the conspiracy county, plus a fine of $250,000, Ortiz said. They also face deportation, according to the statement. An arraignment hearing is scheduled for Aug. 13.
Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to a 30-count indictment when he appeared in court July 10. Prosecutors claim he was motivated by extreme Islam and the U.S. military’s killing of Muslim civilians. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov aren’t accused of helping Tsarnaev plan the attack.
Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov were previously charged on May 1 in a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors. The indictment moves the case forward because it comes from a grand jury that decided after reviewing the government’s evidence in secret.
Tazhayakov’s lawyer, Arkady Bukh, said his client “was in a bad place at a bad time” during the dorm room visit. Tazhayakov “loves the U.S.” and a trial will prove his innocence, Bukh said.
“There is no additional evidence in the indictment,” Bukh said in a phone interview. “For us, it’s just a witch hunt -- the government is looking for someone to blame.”
Kadyrbayev’s lawyer, Robert Stahl, said he was “disappointed” Ortiz decided to obtain an indictment.
“Dias is innocent and we look forward to proving that at trial,” Stahl said in a phone interview. “Dias cooperated fully with the FBI during two days of interviews without the benefit of counsel.”
The men’s lawyers waived a scheduled court hearing in May on whether the government had probable cause to arrest them. They weren’t released on bail and have remained in jail.
Tsarnaev and the Kazakh students began attending the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at the same time in 2011.
Kadyrbayev received a text message from Tsarnaev on April 18 suggesting he go to Tsarnaev’s room and “take what’s there,” according to prosecutors.
“I would never think that message was an instruction to destroy evidence and that’s how the government is trying to present it,” Bukh said.
Kadyrbayev gave the laptop to authorities and told them where he and Tazhayakov had disposed of the backpack, according to Stahl.
Another friend of Tsarnaev’s, Robel Phillipos, 19, who is free on bail on charges of lying to investigators about the same visit to Tsarnaev’s dorm room, is in plea negotiations, according to court records.
“The parties are engaged in negotiations aimed at possible resolution of this matter,” Phillipos’ attorney, Derege Demissie, said in a filing.
The case is U.S. v. Kadyrbayev, 1:13-cr-10238, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston). The Tsarnaev case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).