U.S. authorities on Wednesday charged three men with interfering with the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing, accusing two students from Kazakhstan of hiding a laptop computer and backpack belonging to one of the suspected bombers.
The third man, a U.S. citizen named Robel Phillipos, was charged with making false statements to investigators.
The three were described as friends of surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. They were not charged with direct involvement in the April 15 Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured 264.
Authorities charged the two Kazakhs, Azamat Tazhayakov, 19 and Dias Kadyrbayev, 19, with conspiring to obstruct justice by disposing of a backpack containing fireworks they found in Tsarnaev's dorm room.
Tsarnaev, who attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, is being held at a prison hospital where he is recovering from wounds sustained in a gun battle with police. His older brother, Tamerlan, died in the gunfight.
The three new suspects were scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston on Wednesday afternoon.
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.
Kadyrbayev's lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client was "not a target" of the bombing investigation, but declined to comment on any other specifics. He said his client had "cooperated fully" with investigators and "wants to go home to Kazakhstan."
According to court papers unsealed on Wednesday, the three men admitted to investigators that they had removed Tsarnaev's backpack from his dorm room on April 18 - the day that investigators released photos of the Tsarnaev brothers, saying they were suspects in the bombing.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov decided to "get rid of" the backpack, as well as a laptop computer and fireworks, after seeing reports that suggested their friend was one of the bombers, the criminal complaint said.
After seeing Tsarnaev's photo in TV news reports on the bombing investigation, Kadyrbayev texted the younger Tsarnaev to say that he resembled the suspect, according to the complaint.
Tsarnaev's response included the phrase "lol" and "you better not text me," as well as "come to my room and take whatever you want," according to court papers.
Tsarnaev's roommate let the three new suspects into his room, where they found a backpack including fireworks that had been emptied of explosive powder. They decided to remove the backpack to help their friend "avoid trouble," according to court papers.
Kadyrbayev placed the backpack and fireworks in a dumpster near his apartment. Investigators recovered the backpack on April 26 in a New Bedford, Massachusetts, landfill.
In addition to the fireworks, it included a homework assignment sheet from a class that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was enrolled in.
A New Hampshire fireworks store last month confirmed that the elder bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, bought two large boxes of fireworks in February.
The parents of the Tsarnaev brothers have said in interviews in the North Caucasus region of Russia that they do not believe their sons were responsible for placing the bombs.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body has still not been claimed, a spokesman for the state's chief medical examiner said. His widow, Katherine Russell, on Tuesday said she wanted the medical examiner to release her husband's body to his family.
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