Robel Phillipos has been identified as the American student arrested on Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombings alongside Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev and charged with making false statements to police and obstructing justice in a terrorism investigation.
Robel Phillipos, 19, is charged with knowingly and willfully making false statements to investigators.
According to the FBI, three friends and schoolmates of detained Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were arrested and charged Wednesday with conspiracy to obstruct justice for throwing away belongings of the latter and lying to investigators.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both 19 and of New Bedford, and Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge appeared at the U.S. District Court in Boston where a federal magistrate read them the charges and their rights. The three are former students of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev also studied.
Robel Phillipos is charged with knowingly and willfully making false statements to investigators in relation with the Boston Marathon bombings
According to an FBI affidavit recounting the charges, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, who are Kazakhs holding expired student visas, and Robel Phillipos took the laptop and backpack of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from his dorm room on April 18. At the time, the FBI released photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, as suspects in the April 15 bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.
Dias Kadyrbayev texted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev joking that he looked like the suspects aired on TV and he replied by texting “LOL” and telling them to go to his room and get whatever they want.
The affidavit cited Robel Phillipos’ testimony to investigators that Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev freaked out upon returning to their apartment in New Bedford as the Tsarnaevs were named suspects.
The three decided to dispose of the backpack, which contained empty fireworks shells believed used by the suspects in making the improvised explosives that remotely detonated near the Boston Marathon finish line. They thought doing so would keep Dzhokhar Tsarnaev out of trouble.
Investigators later found and recovered the backpack and its contents in a landfill after getting a tip.
The affidavit said Dias Kadyrbayev knew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was involved in the marathon bombings.
Robel Phillipos, for his part, initially told investigators he never went to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room. In a later interview, he admitted going to the dorm room and getting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s laptop and backpack.
The charges could meet Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev each a 5-year sentence and $250,000 fine if found guilty.
Robel Philippos faces an 8-year sentence and the same amount of fine. The next hearing on the Kazakhs is on May 14 while Robel Phillipos’ next hearing will be on Monday, May 6.
Three new suspects were arrested in connection to the Boston Marathon bombing and they are thought to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s roommates, Kazachs Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov and an unamed American, who helped him cover his tracks after the fatal blasts.
The Boston Police Department were the first ones to report the arrest over their Twitter feed, and The Boston Globe claimed that the three people in custody were college students and the roommates of the younger bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Federal sources told The Washington Post that the three students disposed of undisclosed material in a landfill on behalf of their 19-year-old Chechen friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev following the bombing.
The clue fits as police were seen searching a landfill in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts last week during their search for evidence in the case.
Two of the suspects, identified as Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, were already in police custody in regards to an immigration issue that investigators discovered after questioning them over their license plates that read “TERRORISTA#1”. Those two friends are Kazakh citizens and the third is thought to be an American national.
The three are charged with making false statements and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which implies that they were not involved in actually carrying out the attack but rather helping the suspect evade police after the fatal blasts.
Azamat Tazhayakov, Dias Kadyrbayev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Times Square last year
The claims were reiterated by NBC’s Pete Williams, who said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s roommates were arrested Wednesday and charged with giving false information to police.
The three were all students at UMass Dartmouth- where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was enrolled- and that they helped him after the April 15 bombings.
This is not the first time that the bomber’s roommates have come under investigation, as they prompted alarm bells after it was revealed that they were driving a BMW with license plates that read “TERRORISTA#1”.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov remained in custody over immigration issues as they are Kazakh nationals whose academic visas had expired.
CNN has since identified Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov as two of the three friends that were arrested today.
The third person in custody on Wednesday is believed to be an American citizen who will be charged with making a false statement, according to CBS.
Attorney Robert Stahl told CBS that they were drawn to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev because he also spoke Russian.
The attorney confirmed they now face separate federal charges and have an afternoon court appearance related to the bombing case.
CBS reports that the men will be charged conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements.
ABC affiliate WCVB reports, citing a lawyer who was briefed on the case early Wednesday, that the three suspects disposed “of a backpack full of fireworks that was in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room, done at the request of Tsarnaev sometime after the bombing.”
CBS reports that the suspects were arrested for “harboring or aiding the suspects after the fact” and that they are in the custody of the FBI.
“At this point, we’re not really in a position to make any comment,” FBI spokesman Alison Mahan told Talking Points Memo.
The Boston police followed up their initial tweet by confirming that there is no threat to public safety.
The news of the arrests comes one day after the elder suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife Katherine Russell was interviewed by investigators after they spent hours searching her home.