On Wednesday, criminal complaints were filed against three college friends of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Two Kazakh nationals, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice, and U.S. citizen Robel Phillipos was charged with making false statements. Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev declined to seek bail and will remain in custody until a hearing on May 14. Phillipos will be held until a detention hearing next Monday. The trio claim at the moment that they abetted Tsarnaev’s jihadist attack only to help him evade capture, however, their account of events raises questions about their level of involvement and knowledge of Tsarnaev’s radicalism. Meanwhile, the left’s fervent hope that the attack was the product of “self-radicalized” terrorists becomes more tenuous by the day as such details emerge.
So far there is limited background information on the three men, and some of the information available is contradictory. Along with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, all them began their college careers at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth in 2011. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov have been identified as Muslims, and, like the Boston Marathon bombers, Kadyrbayev at least described his “worldview” as “Islam” on social media sites.
CNN reports that Tazhayakov came to the U.S. from Kazakhstan courtesy of a student visa. According to the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, he is currently enrolled but has been suspended pending the outcome of this case. However, CBS News reports that Tazhayakov’s student visa was invalid, and that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was unaware that the student was no longer in school when he was let back into the United States, according to a federal law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity. Tazhayakov left the U.S. in December and returned on January 20. According to the same official, his student-visa status was terminated in the interim because he had been academically dismissed from the university. The official further noted that Tazhayakov’s information was contained in the Homeland Security Department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), when Tazhayakov returned to the country.
In another example of the brokenness of the DHS monitoring system in relation to the Boston Marathon bombing, department spokesman Peter Boogaard admitted that when Tazhayakov returned, CBP was unaware his visa had expired. Boogaard claimed DHS had recently reformed the system to ensure CBP would have all relevant information, before amending that statement, saying reform was “ongoing.” When questions about his immigration status came up in the hearing on Wednesday, Tazhayakov’s lawyer, Harlan Protass, said he had reenrolled at the college with a different major. Students have 30 days to repair their enrollment status–but only if they are already in the U.S. Thus, it appears there has been another security lapse in this case.
Dias Kadyrbayev, who shares an apartment with Tazhayakov, is also a Kazakh national and was taken into custody April 20 on the suspicion he had likewise violated the terms of his student visa, according to his lawyer, Robert Stahl. Stahl said that Kadyrbayev had been accused of a “technical” visa violation for not attending classes on a regular basis and that he is not currently enrolled in college. Kadyrbayev’s father, Murat, told a TV news station in Kazakhstan that his son “missed a couple, or maybe several classes,” but that he finished school “with excellent grades.” Meanwhile, Robel Phillipos, the third arrestee in relation to the jihad attack, is not currently enrolled at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Like Tsarnaev, he attended the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts during his high school years.
The three arrestees’ story of how they came to the decision to destroy evidence of the plot and help Tsarnaev evade authorities is full of curiosities. According to court papers recounting the men’s claims, the beginning of this saga occurred a month ago when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev he “knew how to make a bomb.” Kadyrbayev last saw Tsarnaev two days after the bombing and noticed the alleged terrorist has cut his hair short. They had a brief conversation outside the dorm. When the FBI released pictures of the suspects 24 hours later, two of the three men thought one of the men looked like Dzhokhar. Kadyrbayev texted Dzhokhar saying so, and received several texts in return, including, “lol,” “you better not text me” and “come to my room and take whatever you want,” according to court papers.
The three men then met at Tsarnaev’s dorm room where they learned Dzhokhar was not around. They were let in by his roommate and claimed they watched a movie. After the movie, they said they found Dzhokhar’s backpack which was full of empty fireworks and decided to take it, along with a laptop computer so as not to arouse the roommate’s suspicions about the backpack. According to Phillipos, they began to “freak out” when they realized Tsarnaev was one of the bombing suspects. Kadyrbayev claimed they then “collectively decided to throw the backpack and fireworks into the trash because they did not want Tsarnaev to get in trouble,” according to the complaint. Kadyrbayeva allegedly put the items in a garbage bag and tossed it in a dumpster near his apartment.
There is a key discrepancy in the defendants’ statements regarding the time they dumped the evidence. It either happened the night of April 18, before Tsarnaev was formally identified as a suspect, or the morning after, which would poke a serious hole in their claims that they didn’t know the backpack and fireworks could be used as evidence in the case. Adding to the intrigue, Reuters is reporting that the trio “may have thrown away a knapsack at Tsarnaev’s request, a law enforcement source said.” These details, along with the men’s swift assumptions and actions immediately following the bombing, raise questions about their prior knowledge of the attack and familiarity with Tsarnaev’s jihadist proclivities. Were the men privy to discussions of a plot and anticipated the terrorist attack? Were they sympathetic to Tsarnaev’s jihadist turn and abetted his crime for this reason? Were they concerned they could be linked to the bombing by the computer that they disposed of (allegedly to “save their friend”)? Did they in fact play a greater role in the atrocity than they claim?
The lawyers for the two Kazakh nationals insist their clients are innocent. Protass insisted that Tazhayakov “has cooperated fully with the authorities and looks forward to the truth coming out in this case.” Stahl insisted that Kadyrbayev “absolutely denies” allegations of a coverup, was “shocked and horrified” by the bombing, and, incredibly, that he told investigators about getting rid of the items from the dorm room but “did not know those items were involved in a bombing.”
The garbage bag was recovered by law enforcement on April 26. It contained the backpack and fireworks, along with a jar of Vaseline, and some of Tsarnaev’s college homework. On Thursday, it was reported by CBS News that the computer had been recovered as well. It may turn out to be the most critical piece of evidence in the case, according to experts, who note that it may contain more evidence than Tsarnaev himself is capable of giving them. Digital forensics expert Jared Stern was brimming with confidence. “From the radicalization point to the operational inception to its execution–anyone that contributed in any way may as well call the FBI now because they’re on their way,” he said.
The arrest of Tsarnaev’s cohorts, along with their suspicious behavior following the marathon bombing, throws yet another wrench in the left’s narrative that the Chechen jihadists acted alone. Numerous other revelations have emerged that raise more questions about the scope on this atrocity. A few days ago, FBI agents visited the Rhode Island home of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s in-laws, where his widow, Katherine Russell, and her 3-year-old daughter are staying. They emerged carrying several bags. The same day, female DNA and fingerprints were found on the components of the bombs used in the attack. The FBI took a sample of Katherine Russell’s DNA, even as they later revealed that they want to find out what Tamerlan discussed with his wife in a phone call that occurred a few hours after the agency released photos of him and his brother as suspects in the attack.
Russell’s attorney, Amato DeLuca, released a written statement Wednesday saying his client “will continue to meet with law enforcement, as she has done for many hours over the past week, and provide as much assistance to the investigation as she can.” Yet according to a report released by the New York Times late yesterday afternoon, Russell has stopped cooperating with authorities. Furthermore, her DNA and fingerprints do not match those found on the bomb, indicating still another individual is possibly connected to the attack. It has now come to light that the bombers’ mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, was also on a terrorist watch list and was recorded discussing jihad with the plot mastermind, Tamerlan. She is a known Islamic extremist and appears to have helped radicalize her sons. Her stunning cries of “Allahu Akbar” during a recent CNN interview and tearless media tirades upbraiding America leave little wonder as to why she is now considered a person of interest in the case by the FBI.
The parameters of the Russian connections to this case are expanding as well. Tamerlan was put under surveillance by the Russians during his six-month trip to Dagestan last year because of his possible connection to a Canadian jihadist named William Plotnikov, who was killed in a shootout with Russia’s counterterrorism forces in the region while Tamerlan was there. After Plotnikov’s death, Tamerlan was apparently in such a hurry to leave he never bothered to get his Russian passport — which is why his parents claim he made the trip. And while there is currently no evidence showing the two men met, independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claims Russia’s FSB security service was interested in Tsarnaev because of his connection to Plotnikov. Citing Russian security forces, the paper also reported that Tsarnaev met several times with suspected Islamist Mahmud Mansur Nidal, an 18-year-old who was also killed in a shootout with Russian police two months before Tsarnaev returned to Boston. Those meetings reportedly prompted FSB to request further communications with U.S. law enforcement officials.
That was Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s second visit to the region. Two years ago, he drew the attention of Russian security forces for attending a Salaafist mosque that has been a den for terror suspects killed in shootouts with Russian counterterrorism officials. Tsarnaev’s frequents visits to the mosque elicited the FSB’s 2011 warning to the FBI about Tamerlan’s potential radicalization. The Russians also provided the FBI with the wiretapped conversations between Tamerlan and his mother, whom Russia was monitoring. The Russians also provided the FBI with a conversation between Tsarnaeva and an unnamed man in the Russian Caucasus under FBI investigation in an unrelated case.
Also late yesterday afternoon, in another of the many revelations the administration has been releasing in a seemingly calculated manner, it was reported that the brothers had considered striking on the Fourth of July, but finished building their bombs faster than expected. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev also revealed that he and his brother had watched Internet sermons made by Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical America cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2012.
What makes the aforementioned release seem calculated is that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev gave the FBI this information back on April 21, before he was Mirandized. Given the Obama administration’s penchant for “shaping a narrative,” much like what occurred when they attempted to blame Benghazi on an Internet video, it is quite possible this represents an attempt to convince a largely inattentive public that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s cooperation is ongoing. That is simply not the case. Nor does it seem to be the case that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are the “self-radicalized” terrorists the president wishes they were, even as he has yet to mention the Islamic jihadist motivation that drove them to commit their atrocity. At the very least it seems that Tamerlan’s pipeline to the Chechen Islamist terrorist movement influenced his actions and, possibly, materially supported the attack. The elaborateness of the plot, potentially involving the bombers’ arrested Muslim friends, we will know soon enough.
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