Authorities charged three Massachusetts teenagers on Wednesday with destroying evidence and lying to federal officials investigating last month's Boston Marathon bombings.
The Justice Department said it has charged Dias Kadyrbayev, 19, and Azamat Tazhayakov, 19, in conspiring to destroy, conceal and cover-up a laptop and a backpack of fireworks that allegedly belonged to suspected bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov lived in New Bedford and are Kazakhstan nationals who came to the United States on student visas, according to the affidavit accompanying the charges. Phillipos is a U.S. citizen who lived in Cambridge, Mass.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, while Phillipos could receive a maximum of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine, authorities said.
The Boston Police Department issued a statement Wednesday saying there was "no threat to public safety" and that more details would be forthcoming.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told CNN the suspects were all college students who will faces charges of "disposal of evidence."
“It is part of the ongoing investigation. And this basically is I believe going to involve three students who allegedly helped to dispose of evidence or remove evidence," King said on Wednesday. “Two of them had been in custody on visa violations and the other was an American citizen who has been picked up.”
The three teenagers are believed to be roommates and acquaintances of Dzokhar Tsarnev, the 19-year-old bombing suspect who was captured after a day-long manhunt that shut down the city of Boston. The three suspects charged on Wednesday are not believed to have aided Tsarnaev before the terror attack, according to a federal official.
Tsarnaev is facing federal charges of using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death. He was moved late last week from a hospital to a federal prison medical center, where he is reportedly being kept in a room behind a steel door.
His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died after a shootout with police. The pair are accused of having set the twin bombs that killed three people and injured some 260 others at the Boston Marathon.
Earlier this week, investigators searched the Rhode Island home of Katherine Russell, Tamerlan's widow and the mother of his child. Boston police had also searched a landfill in New Bedford, Mass., in search of a laptop that could be relevant to the case. But CNN reported that Russell was not among those arrested Wednesday.
Boston Police said they did not have details on a possible press conference to explain the arrest, and referred questions to the FBI.
The arrests come as Washington begins to delve into possible intelligence failures in the run-up to the Boston attack. The House Homeland Security Committee is scheduled to hold the first congressional hearing into the Boston bombings next week.
On Tuesday, at President Obama’s request, the inspector generals for the intelligence community, the DOJ, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a review of how the government handled its investigation of Tamerlan. Russian intelligence officials warned the U.S. about his interest in radical groups in 2011, prompting an FBI interview.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that Congress should appoint a joint select committee to investigate the government's handling of intelligence on the bombing suspects.
"When it comes to Boston, we need a joint select committee to look at FBI, the CIA and Homeland Security," Graham told CNN on Tuesday. "The system did not work as designed."
Graham has suggested that intelligence and law enforcement agencies did not properly coordinate a response after Russian intelligence tipped off American officials that bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev could have radical ties. "Ultimate blame, I think, is with the administration," he said last week.
President Obama dismissed Graham's criticisms, pointing to the rapid response to the bombing.
"Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although it may have generated some headlines," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
"I think that what we saw in Boston was state, local, federal officials, every agency, rallying around a city that had been attacked, identifying the perpetrators just hours after the scene had been examined," he said. "We now have one individual deceased, one in custody. Charges have been brought."
The president went on to say that initial indications were that federal agencies had properly vetted Tsarnaev.
"What I can say is, is that based on what I've seen so far, the FBI performed its duties; Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing," Obama said.