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Government Indictment of Tsarnaev Friends Ups the Ante

Yesterday a federal grand jury of the Massachusetts District indicted two college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Kazakh nationals Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting, alleging that they and an unnamed co-conspirator removed incriminating materials from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room at his behest following the marathon bombings, and disposed of them.

The first charge carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison; the second, 20 years. When the two originally entered custody in May they were only charged with the first count, so that this indictment constitutes a significant escalation.

The indictment itself quotes from a text message from Tsarnaev to Kadyrbayev to the effect that he could go to Tsarnaev’s dorm room and take what was there. However, it omits the facts that this statement was preceded by “LOL” (even as it is careful to preserve the common Muslim salutation “salam alaikum” at the end), that the text message was in response to a text message from Kadyrbayev to the effect that the pictures being shown on TV of the bombing suspects looked like Tsarnaev, and that the friends interpreted his response as a joke. All of these points were acknowledged by the FBI itself at the time the friends were originally charged.

That is, no one was thinking originally that anything the friends did was at Tsarnaev’s behest. Also, as their lawyers have stressed, they fully cooperated with the authorities from the beginning.

(At the same time as the indictment the attorney for a third friend Robel Phillipos, charged with lying to investigators about the matter, filed papers stating that negotiations to resolve his case were ongoing.)

Evidently the government is hoping to increase the pressure on the two Kazakhs to testify against Tsarnaev in exchange for lighter treatment.

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E. F. Beall

E. F. Beall