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Boston Bombings: Arrested Man's Social Media Posts May Offer Clues

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (right) poses with Azamat Tazhayakov (left) and Dias Kadyrbaev in an undated photo taken in New York City.
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (right) poses with Azamat Tazhayakov (left) and Dias Kadyrbaev in an undated photo taken in New York City.
On April 19, at 3:13 a.m., as authorities began the third hour of a 17-hour search for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, Dias Kadyrbaev apparently logged onto vKontakte, a Russian social-networking site, and posted a picture of himself with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In writing a status message that mixed the Russian word "brat" with the common Arabic expression "Salam Alleikum," he seemed to be sending "greetings" to his "brother."

Because it was added more than three hours before Tsarnaev, 19, was named publicly as the suspect, the picture took on increased significance on May 1 when Kadyrbaev, along with friends Azamat Tazhayakov and Robel Phillipos, was charged with hindering the probe into the Boston Marathon attack.

According to an FBI affidavit, Kadyrbaev had known as early as 6 p.m. the previous evening that his friend may have been involved in the Boston blasts.

He met Tazhayakov and Phillipos at Tsarnaev’s dorm room after Phillipos alerted him that photos of a suspect being shown on television looked like Tsarnaev, the affidavit says. After seeing a backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their powder, the three friends, all 19, concluded that Tsarnaev must have been involved in the bombing.

Later that evening, Kadyrbaev, according to the affidavit, placed the backpack and the fireworks in a black garbage bag and threw it in a dumpster. He reportedly told investigators he was trying to protect Tsarnaev, who had become close to him and Tazhayakov over the past year. They had all been students at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Kadyrbaev and Tazhayakov, Kazakh nationals who had been held for more than a week for violating their student visas, were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice and could face five years in prison. Phillipos, a U.S. citizen, has been charged with making false statements to investigators and could face eight years' imprisonment.

In a press briefing on May 1, Kadyrbaev's lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client "is just as shocked and horrified by the violence that took place in Boston as the rest of the community is."

Kadyrbaev and Tazhayakov, who both come from elite families, were described as friendly and well-liked in interviews conducted by RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service with acquaintances and family members.

"He never showed any aggression," said Aldiyarov Kadyrbaev, a cousin in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. "He and I grew up together, in the same apartment. We were brought up the same way. We were both quiet. We just can't believe it.”

Another close relative, who declined to be identified, said Kadyrbaev’s mother has left Kazakhstan for the United States to assist her son in his legal fight.

The vKontakte post by Kadyrbaev is striking mostly because of its timing. When it was posted there had already been reports of a shoot-out that had left one suspect dead and another on the run, but at the time, most of the world -- perhaps including police -- would still not have been able to connect a name to the grainy image of suspect no. 2 being shown on television screens. Kadyrbaev though, had allegedly already known for up to nine hours.

There are several other pictures with Tsarnaev on Kadyrbaev’s page, but before April 19 a year had passed since Tsarnaev had appeared among the photos, and the one posted two weeks ago is the only image with just the two of them.

The photo shows Kadyrbaev with a wide smile as a large meal awaits him and his friend on a table before them. Tsarnaev rests his right hand lazily on Kadyrbaev’s shoulder.
Dias Kadyrbayev (left) with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dias Kadyrbayev (left) with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan, who died after the shoot-out with police, are suspected in the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, which left three dead, and in the shooting death of an MIT police officer late on April 18, after the three college friends are alleged to have discovered the Tsarnaev connection to the attacks. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was caught hiding in a boat in a suburban backyard, remains hospitalized with gunshot injuries.

On the day of the manhunt an RFE/RL reporter in Prague, who took a screenshot of the post, twice tried to contact Kadyrbaev through vKontakte, messaging him in Russian and in English.

Kadyrbaev did not respond and by the next day the picture and the status message had been removed.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report
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    Glenn Kates

    Glenn Kates is the former managing editor for digital at Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He now reports for RFE/RL as a freelancer. 

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