Tsarnaev’s Friends Told Feds Of Frantic Bombing Aftermath

About a month before April 15, Azamat Tazhayakov was having a meal with his roommate Dias Kadyrbayev and their friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev when, according to court documents, Tsarnaev told them that he knew how to make a bomb.Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev met Tsarnaev in 2011, when they all began attending the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, both from Kazakhstan, shared an apartment in New Bedford, Mass., and Tsarnaev had spent a lot of time there in recent months. He was there with Tazhayakov, court records show, until about midnight on April 17, two days after the bombing.

The next day, Tazhayakov had an afternoon class, and he caught a ride home with Tsarnaev, who dropped him off at around 4 p.m. A little over an hour later, the FBI released photographs and videos of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects, then still unnamed. Later that night, Tazhayakov was out shopping when he got a text from Kadyrbayev: “Have you seen the news?”

The events that ensued led to federal charges filed Wednesday against Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev, and a third friend, Robel Phillipos, who also attended UMass-Darthmouth. They have not been accused of participating in the bombing. Instead, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, who have been in custody since being arrested April 20 on immigration violations, were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice for knowingly destroying, concealing, and covering up objects belonging to Tsarnaev, namely a backpack containing fireworks and a laptop computer. Phillipos, meanwhile, was charged with making false statements in a terrorism investigation.

An affidavit written in support of the complaints against the three men by FBI special agent Scott Cieplik provided summaries of what the three men told investigators in numerous interviews last month. It also offered a glimpse of Tsarnaev’s actions in the days between the bombing and his April 19 apprehension. The accounts given by the three men differ at various points, especially on questions of timing, but, according to the affidavit, all three admitted to investigators that on the night of April 18 they removed Tsarnaev’s backpack from Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov further admitted that they agreed to get rid of the backpack “after concluding from news reports that Tsarnaev was one of the Boston Marathon bombers.”

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov both told investigators they had grown close with Tsarnaev in 2012. Kadyrbayev said he had visited Tsarnev’s home repeatedly, and met members of his family. Tazhayakov recalled a day several months ago when he, Tsarnaev, and others had set off fireworks on the banks of the Charles River in Boston.

According to the affidavit, Kadyrbayev, like Tazhayakov, told investigators that he had seen Tsarnaev as recently as April 17. Kadyrbayev had driven to Tsarnaev’s dorm, Pine Dale Hall, and texted his friend to come down and meet him. Tsarnaev came. They chatted while Kadyrbayev smoked a cigarette. Kadyrbayev noticed that Tsarnaev appeared to have given himself a short haircut. Then Tsarnaev went back to him room.

The next day, Kadyrbayev was driving when he got a call from Phillipos. Phillipos told him to put on the news when he got home, because the FBI had released images of the bombing suspects, and one of them looked familiar. When he got home, Kadyrbayev turned on the TV. Phillipos was right. Kadyrbayev texted Tsarnaev, and told him he looked like the suspect on television. (Kadyrbayev’s lawyer has already publicly disputed the government’s allegation that his client recognized Tsarnaev immediately after seeing a photograph.) According to the affidavit, Tsarnaev texted back between 8:43 p.m. and 8:48 p.m.

“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,'” the affidavit states.

By Kadyrbayev’s account, he, Tazhayakov, and Phillipos had already been to Tsarnaev’s room by then. In Kadyrbayev’s version of events, the trio had met between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. and went to Tsarnaev’s room. They were let in by Tsarnaev’s roommate, and then spent some time inside “watching a movie,” according to the affidavit.

“They noticed a backpack containing fireworks,” the affidavit states. “The fireworks had been opened and emptied of powder. 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 trio then returned to Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov’s apartment. They watched the news. According to Kadyrbayev, they then collectively decided to throw the backpack and fireworks into the trash because they did not want him to get in trouble. Around 10 p.m., Kadyrbayev placed the backpack and the fireworks into a large black trash bag, with other trash, and put the bag in a dumpster.

In Tazhayakov’s version of events, he received a text from Kadyrbayev — “Have you seen the news?” — at 9 p.m. on April 18. They traded more texts and then Tazhayakov went home and looked at images on CNN with Kadyrbayev. They met Phillipos outside Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and before they went in, Kadyrbayev showed Tazhayakov a text message from Tsarnaev that stated “I’m about to leave if you need something in my room take it.” The affidavit stated that when Tazhayakov saw that text, he believed he would never see Tsarnaev alive again. Tazhayakov’s account did not apparently mention any movie watching, only that once inside the room Kadyrbayev located a backpack that contained a cardboard tube “that Tazhayakov described as fireworks.” Powder had been emptied out of the tube. Kadyrbayev also found a jar of Vaseline in the room and told Tazhayakov he thought Tsarnaev had used the Vaseline “to make bombs.” At that point, according to the affidavit, Tazhayakov believed his friend was involved in the bombing.

In Tazhayakov’s version, he, Kadyrbayev, and Phillipos were up at 6 a.m. on April 19, and saw news reports identifying the Tsarnaev brothers as the suspects in the bombings. Kadyrbayev decided to throw out the backpack and fireworks inside, and Tazhayakov agreed.

According to the affidavit, Phillipos admitted in a fourth interview with investigators that he had lied in previous interviews. He said that at around 9 p.m. on April 18, he got a text message from Kadyrbayev saying “to go to Jahar’s room.” (Tsarnaev’s friends called him Jahar.) According to Phillipos, Kadyrbayev “went through Jahar’s belongings” and found “a dark backpack,” inside of which “at which point I observed seven red tubular fireworks, approximately 6 to 8 inches in length.” After the group returned to Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov’s apartment they “started to freak out, because it became clear from a CNN report that we were watching that Jahar was one of the Boston Marathon bombers,” Phillipos told investigators.

On Friday, law enforcement agents found the backpack in a New Bedford landfill. Inside the backpack were the fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, a UMass-Dartmouth homework assignment sheet.

“I have determined that the homework assignment sheet is from a class in which Tsarnaev is currently enrolled,” FBI special agent Scott Cieplik wrote near the end of the affidavit.