Tsarnaev friend told FBI of suspect’s violent tendencies

Patricia Wen
Boston Globe | July 10, 2014

A former student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth recounted to the FBI last year several instances when his college friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev showed violent tendencies, although he also said that he never imagined that Tsarnaev would ignite powerful bombs to kill and maim, according to testimony Thursday in the student’s trial on obstruction-of-justice charges.

Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, allegedly told federal agents that Tsarnaev spoke last year of knowing how to make homemade bombs, owning BB guns, and visiting a shooting range with his brother, Tamerlan.

But Tazhayakov, a 20-year-old from Kazakhstan, said in a text message April 19, 2013, that he was stunned to see the FBI link his friend to that week’s deadly Boston Marathon explosions, which killed three and injured more than 260. Tazhayakov believed that his friend had to be under the spell of Tamerlan, who had become immersed in a radical form of Islam and once gave Tazhayakov a book on the religion.

“I think that it’s all his brother’s fault. . . . He brainwashed him,” Tazhayakov wrote in another text that same day.

The evidence is part of conflicting portraits of the young foreign student presented to jurors as his trial nears the end of its first full week. Prosecutors depicted Tazhayakov as willfully blind to Tsarnaev’s violent tendencies, saying he and his off-campus roommate decided to take incriminating evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room when they realized he was a fugitive.

Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both natives of Kazakhstan who shared an apartment in New Bedford, are charged with obstructing justice by taking Tsarnaev’s backpack, containing manipulated fireworks, and a laptop from his dorm room on the night of April 18, hours after the FBI released photos of the Marathon bombing suspects. Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted.

A third college friend of Tsarnaev’s, Robel Phillipos, is also charged in the case. While he was present in Tsarnaev’s dorm room the night the items were allegedly taken, he faces the less serious charge of lying to investigators about his whereabouts that night. He faces up to eight years in prison.

Each defendant is being tried separately, with Tazhayakov’s trial starting first.

Responding to questions from Assistant US Attorney John Capin, FBI agent Farbod Azad testified that Tazhayakov admitted to investigators that he played a role in removing the items, even as he denies that now. While the defense has argued that Kadyrbayev alone removed the items, Azad said Tazhayakov used words like we when referring to the removal of the backpack and laptop in interrogations shortly after Tsarnaev was arrested.

Prosecutors also showed jurors extensive records of Tazhayakov’s Internet searches on April 18 and 19, 2013, to suggest that he was consumed by news of the bombing and looking up articles about Tsarnaev. They suggested that the Internet searches showed Tazhayakov’s mind-set when he allegedly agreed with a plan to throw the backpack into a dumpster behind the New Bedford apartment.

But Tazhayakov’s defense attorneys insist their client is innocent, saying he was unaware of Kadyrbayev’s actions that night. They have also criticized the FBI agents who investigated the case for not videotaping their interviews with Tazhayakov, relying instead on memory or incomplete written notes to recall what he allegedly said when interrogated.

Tazhayakov’s lawyers have emphasized that their client sometimes had to consult a Russian-English dictionary on his phone to grasp for words when he was being interrogated, and that language misunderstandings probably happened. They have also argued that Tazhayakov’s Internet searches are not a sign of guilt, as millions of people across the country were also immersed in the minute-to-minute unfolding of the investigation. And while he was searching the Internet for news of the bombings, they said, he also called up a campus website for a homework assignment.

Still, prosecutors say, the text messages and Web searches reveal what Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev knew on April 18 and 19, 2013, when they allegedly acted to protect Tsarnaev, who was later captured in a boat parked in the driveway of a Watertown home. Tsarnaev, whose trial is scheduled for November, faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

Tazhayakov’s digital trail perhaps reveals one new concern that was on his mind by April 20, 2013, as he was on the verge of being arrested on a visa violation, a prelude to the more serious charges he now faces.

According to government exhibits, Tazhayakov searched at least two websites around noon that day, the search term being: Miranda warning.



Prosecutor: Tsarnaev said martyrs go to heaven
AP | July 7, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told a friend a month before the deadly attack that he knew how to make a bomb and said it’s good to be a martyr because you "die with a smile on your face and go straight to heaven," a U.S. prosecutor told jurors Monday at the friend’s obstruction trial.

Tsarnaev also texted the friend, Azamat Tazhayakov, 90 minutes after the bombings and said, "Don’t go thinking it’s me," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said.

Siegmann’s comments came during opening statements at Tazhayakov’s trial, which promises to provide a glimpse into the government’s case against Tsarnaev.

Tsarnaev is scheduled to go on trial in November on charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty. Prosecutors say he and his older brother, Tamerlan, built two bombs and placed them near the finish line of the 2013 marathon to retaliate against the U.S. for its actions in Muslim countries. The explosions killed three people and injured more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police several days later.

Tazhayakov, 20, has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges. He and his roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, went to Tsarnaev’s university dorm room several days after the bombing and took a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks that had black powder spilling out or had been emptied of their powder, Siegmann told the jury.

"The government will prove to you that the defendant and his co-conspirator removed the backpack for one reason, and that reason was to protect their friend who they had just learned was one of the two suspected marathon bombers," Siegmann said.

Prosecutors acknowledge that Kadyrbayev is the one who actually put the backpack in the trash but said Tazhayakov agreed to get rid of it.

She described a conversation Tsarnaev had with Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev a month before the bombings while they ate together at a restaurant.

"Tsarnaev told the defendant and Kadyrbayev that it was good to die as a shaheed, or a martyr, as you would die with a smile on your face and go straight to heaven," she said.

During that same meal, Siegmann said, Tsarnaev also told his friends he knew how to make a bomb and went on to list the ingredients, including gunpowder or explosive powder like what was found in the fireworks inside the backpack.

Tazhayakov’s defense attorney, Nicholas Wooldridge, urged jurors not be swayed by the emotional impact of the marathon bombings. He asked them instead to focus on Tazhayakov’s actions.

"Azamat’s actions will show that he never intended to obstruct justice. As a matter of fact, he never intended to help the bomber himself," Wooldridge said.

Wooldridge said Tazhayakov went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room with Kadyrbayev three days after the bombings and hours after the FBI released video footage and photos of the brothers.

But he said Tazhayakov watched a movie while Kadyrbayev looked around Tsarnaev’s room after receiving a text from Tsarnaev that said, "If you want, you can go to my room and take what’s there," followed by a smiley face, which Wooldridge said was a symbol that meant marijuana to the friends.

Wooldridge said it was Kadyrbayev who threw the backpack away in the trash after his girlfriend learned it belonged to Tsarnaev and told him, "Get it out of the apartment."

"Azamat never even touched that bag," Wooldridge said.

Kadyrbayev’s girlfriend is expected to testify against Tazhayakov under a grant of immunity from prosecutors.

Kadyrbayev faces his own trial in September.


Ex-roommate: Tsarnaev seemed normal after bombings
AP | July 8, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not seem nervous or agitated in the days after the deadly attack, his former college roommate testified Tuesday during the trial of a Tsarnaev friend accused of obstructing the investigation.

In the few days after the April 2013 bombing, Andrew Dwinells said, Tsarnaev spent much of his time the same way he always did: sleeping, texting and going on his computer.

"He slept a little bit more, but that was it," Dwinells said.

Dwinells’ testimony came during the trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, who is accused with another friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, of removing items from Tsarnaev’s University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth dorm room three days after the bombings and hours after the FBI posted video and photos of Tsarnaev as a suspect.

His description of Tsarnaev’s behavior after the bombings was elicited by Tazhayakov’s attorneys during cross-examination and appeared designed to underscore the defense’s contention that none of the people who knew Tsarnaev — including Tazhayakov — had any idea that Tsarnaev was a suspect in the bombings until after the FBI released his photo.

During questioning by prosecutors, Dwinells said he and Tsarnaev shared a room but didn’t talk much and never socialized together.

Dwinells described the night of April 18, 2013, when prosecutors say Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev and another friend went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room after Tsarnaev texted Kadyrbayev and said they could "take what’s there."

Dwinells said a man he later learned was Kadyrbayev "said he needed to get into the room to get something."

After getting a small bag of marijuana out of a desk drawer, Kadyrbayev continued to look around the room for another 10 minutes, but Dwinells said he did not see any other items being taken. Dwinells said the other men — Tazhayakov and Robel Phillipos — sat down and watched TV while Kadyrbayev searched the room.

Prosecutors contend that Tazhayakov agreed with Kadyrbayev’s plan to take a backpack containing altered fireworks and to throw away the items to protect Tsarnaev.

Tazhayakov’s lawyers insist that he sat passively in the dorm room while Kadyrbayev took the backpack and did not participate in the decision to throw it away.

Two bombs placed near the marathon finish line killed three people and injured more than 260.

In other testimony Tuesday, an FBI agent said Tazhayakov initially denied knowing what was in Tsarnaev’s backpack but eventually said he saw fireworks that appeared to have been emptied of powder.

Agent Sara Wood said he told her he said "I agree" when Kadyrbayev suggested throwing away the backpack.

During cross-examination by Tazhayakov’s lawyer, Wood acknowledged that Tazhayakov told her it was Kadyrbayev who actually took the backpack and threw it away.

Tsarnaev is awaiting trial. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Authorities say he and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted the bombs made from pressure cookers. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police several days after the bombings.


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