BOSTON — An immigrant cabdriver from Kyrgyzstan who was friends with the Tsarnaev brothers has been indicted in connection with destroying evidence from his computer and lying to the FBI about his relationship with the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, federal authorities announced Friday.
Khairullozhon Matanov, 23, of Quincy, Mass., appeared in federal court here, charged with obstructing the FBI’s investigation of the two bombings at the April 2013 marathon that killed three people and injured more than 260.
The indictment does not charge Matanov with knowing or participating in the attacks, but it quoted him as saying that he would support the bombings if it turned out that they were “done in the name of Islam” or “by the Taliban.” And while expressing sympathy with victims, Matanov also reportedly said he could “explain away the significance of the victims’ deaths on the ground that everyone must eventually die.”
Matanov appeared at a brief afternoon court hearing, wearing jeans and a white shirt with “Levi’s” written in red. He was nervous and shaking, telling the court in a slight accent that he did not need a translator. A detention hearing was scheduled for next week.
His court-appointed defense attorney, Edward Hayden, said after the hearing that Matanov was arrested Friday morning in his apartment with $500 in his wallet. He said Matanov was in this country under a student visa and a grant of asylum.
Hayden said that the indictment included “a lot of unsubstantiated allegations” and that Matanov had “no intent to mislead the FBI.” When asked why Matanov was arrested more than a year after the bombings, the attorney replied, “That’s the million-dollar question.” Hayden added, “He’s very frightened. He’s very nervous.”
Matanov is charged with destroying, altering and falsifying records, documents and other “tangible objects” in the FBI’s investigation, including files “that contained violent content or calls to violence.” Further, prosecutors said, Matanov “shared the suspected bombers’ philosophical justification for violence.”
He is also accused of making “false, fictitious and fraudulent” statements to federal agents.
Prosecutors said Matanov realized the FBI wanted to interview him, especially after federal agents learned that he had phoned Tamerlan Tsarnaev and talked to him for two minutes — 42 minutes after the midday blasts at the marathon’s finish line. That evening, the indictment said, he picked up Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in his cab, driving to a local restaurant for dinner.
“The three discussed the bombings at the restaurant,” the indictment said, and Matanov said that Tamerlan did not admit his role in the attack but said “that he did not believe that al-Qaida was responsible because al-Qaida usually issues a statement accepting responsibility within two hours of an event, and had not made a statement about the bombing.”
When Matanov brought up the bombings again, “neither brother seemed interested in talking about them,” he told investigators.
In the days that followed, the indictment said, Matanov repeatedly tried calling the brothers, and visited Tamerlan at his home with his wife and child.
Matanov entered the U.S. in 2010 and has lived in Massachusetts. He drove for Checker Cab in Braintree, Mass., where fellow workers recalled him as a devout Muslim.
Mike King, 26, who lives in the same apartment building as Matanov, said he was not surprised by the police activity Friday morning. King said he had exchanged little more than hellos with Matanov in the hallway.
Police came to the apartment the week after the marathon, he said, and a police officer sat outside the building all day during this year’s marathon.
King said that when he left his home at 4:45 a.m., all was quiet. But an hour or so later, he got a text from his roommate saying that someone had been arrested.
“I kind of figured it was the guy who didn’t speak English,” he said.
The apartment building, a small brick unit with two-bedroom apartments with balconies, is on a quiet street in Quincy, near the birthplace of President John Quincy Adams. Matanov’s cab, a minivan, was parked in the driveway.
The indictment said Matanov participated in a variety of activities with Tamerlan, including discussing religious topics and hiking up a New Hampshire mountain to train like Islamic militant fighters. If he is convicted, he faces a maximum of 31 years in prison.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout four nights after the bombings, and Dzhokhar, his younger brother, was arrested the next day.