(Most recent update: 3:27 p.m. ET.)
Three 19-year-old men — two of them University of Massachusetts Dartmouth college students from Kazakhstan who were friends with Boston bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — were taken into custody Wednesday by authorities in Boston. The third individual, an American citizen, was also a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where Tsarnaev was enrolled.
Law enforcement sources told NPR and other news outlets that the three are not suspected of having taken part in the April 15 bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 250. Rather, they’re accused of having given Tsarnaev help afterward by trying to dispose of damning evidence. They’re also accused of having lied to the FBI. Court documents released at mid-afternoon painted a picture of young men who did not play a part in the bombings but allegedly removed a laptop and some empty fireworks (from which powder may have been removed to make bombs) from Tsarnaev’s dorm room.
According to those documents, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov of Kazakhstan, and Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Mass., knew on April 18 that Tsarnaev was suspected in the bombings and Tazhayakov, at least, believed his friend was one of the bombers. But the next morning, after it had been widely reported that Tsarnaev was on the run and that his brother Tamerlan had died after a gun battle with police, at least two of the three young men were allegedly involved in throwing away a backpack containing the empty fireworks and laptop that they had reportedly taken from Tsarnaev’s dorm room. The young men agreed to dispose of the evidence, the criminal complaint says, in order to help their friend “avoid trouble.” Authorities later found the evidence in a nearby landfill.
Tsarnaev, 19, survived the gun battle with police in Watertown, Mass., on April 19 and was captured later that day after a massive manhunt. His brother Tamerlan, who died, was 26.
The news that three young men had been taken into custody came at 11:07 a.m. ET when the Boston Police Department tweeted that:
“Three additional suspects taken into custody in Marathon bombing case. Details to follow.”
We’ve been following the story as NPR and other news outlets get additional information. Click here for a note that explains how we cover breaking news such as this.
NPR’s coverage of the April 15 bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 250 is collected here.
Update at 3:14 p.m. ET. Kadyrbayev Texted With Tsarnaev:
In the criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Scott P. Cieplik writes that Kadyrbayev told investigators that shortly after the FBI released photographs of the bombing suspects, Philopos called him, instructing him “to put the news on when he got home because one of the suspects in the marathon bombings looked familiar.”
According to the complaint, Kadyrbayev got home and texted Tsarnaev, telling him he looked like the bombing suspect.
“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 whaever you want,’” the complaint reads.
Those texts were sent April 18 at around 8:43 p.m. ET.
Update at 2:25 p.m. ET. Criminal Complaints Released, Individuals Identified.
In documents just released, the Department of Justice states:
“Dias Kadyrbayev, 19, and Azamat Tazhayakov, 19, both of New Bedford [Mass.] were charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to obstruct justice by conspiring to destroy, conceal and cover up tangible objects belonging to suspected Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, namely a laptop computer and backpack containing fireworks. A third man, Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge [Mass.], was charged with willfully making materially false statements to federal law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation. According to the affidavit accompanying the complaint, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are both nationals of Kazakhstan who entered the United States on student visas. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and $250,000 fine. Phillipos faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.”
Update at 1:45 p.m. ET. Two Identified.
A lawyer for two of the individuals has given an on-the-record confirmation to the Boston Globe of information that law enforcement sources told NPR and other news outlets earlier.
Harlan J. Protass, a criminal lawyer from New York, told the Globe: “I can confirm” that Kazak students that Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev “were two of the three individuals that the Boston police tweeted about. … They are going to be charged criminally.”
Update at 1:10 p.m. ET. Fireworks And A Laptop?
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have asked at least two of the individuals to dispose of fireworks and a laptop that were in his dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, CNN’s Jake Tapper says he’s been told by law enforcement officials. Tapper adds that his source says the request apparently came after photos of Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, were released by authorities but before the brothers’ names were released and it became known that they were the main suspects in the bombings.
Update at 12:40 p.m. ET. Allegedly Lied To FBI And Disposed Of Some Evidence:
A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation tells NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston that two of the individuals, both said to be students from Kazakhstan, are suspected of failing to tell the truth to the FBI about whether they saw alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the April 15 attack. They’re also suspected of throwing out some sort of evidence that may have once been in the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth dormitory where Tsarnaev had lived.
Those allegations could lead to charges such as obstruction of justice.
It isn’t yet known why the third person has been taken into custody.
Update at 11:47 a.m. ET. Suspects Are Said To Be Two Students And A Third Person; None Are Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Wife.
NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston reports that law enforcement sources familiar with the situation say an indictment is expected to be unsealed later today that implicates three more individuals. Two of them, she’s told, are students from Kazakhstan who were arrested over a week ago on immigration charges. They are going to be charged with obstruction of justice. Sources say they believe the two young men, who were students with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the University of Massashusetts’ Dartmouth campus, may have helped him in some way after the attacks. The third person is an American citizen, Dina is being told, and is not Katherine Russell, Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife.
The Boston Globe says the third person is also a student. That has not been independently confirmed by NPR.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in custody at a federal prison medical facility. His 26-year-old brother Tamerlan, the other main suspect in the bombings and crimes that followed, died from injuries he received during a gun battle with police on April 19.
Update at 11:42 a.m. ET. “No Threat To The Public.”
Boston Police add this message in a new tweet: “Please be advised there is no threat to the public.”
Note: As happens when stories such as this are developing, there will likely be reports that turn out to be mistaken. We will focus on news being reported by NPR, other news outlets with expertise, and statements from authorities who are in a position to know what’s going on. And if some of that information turns out to be wrong, we’ll update.