BOSTON — A cab driver 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 men authorities say were behind the Boston Marathon bombing, federal authorities announced Friday.
Khairullozhon Matanov, 23, of Quincy, Mass., appeared in federal court here, accused of obstructing the FBI's investigation into the two April 2013 bombings that killed three people and injured hundreds.
The indictment does not accuse Matanov of knowing or participating in the attacks, but it quoted him as saying he would support the bombings if it turned out that they were “done in the name of Islam” or “by the Taliban.” And though he expressed sympathy for victims, Matanov said he could “explain away the significance of the victims’ deaths on the ground that everyone must eventually die,” according to the indictment.
Matanov appeared at a brief afternoon court hearing wearing jeans and a white shirt with the words “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 the indictment included “a lot of unsubstantiated allegations” and that Matanov had “no intent to mislead the FBI.” When asked why he was arrested now, more than a year after the bombings, Hayden 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 also allegedly made “false, fictitious and fraudulent” statements to federal agents.
Prosecutors said Matanov realized the FBI wanted to interview him, especially after federal agents learned he had phoned Tamerlan Tsarnaev and talked to him for two minutes just 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, and they drove to a local restaurant for dinner.
“The three discussed the bombings at the restaurant,” the indictment said, and Matanov claimed that Tamerlan did not admit his role in the attack but said “that he did not believe that Al Qaeda was responsible, because Al Qaeda 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 the Checker Cab company in Braintree, Mass., where fellow workers recalled him as a devout Muslim.
The indictment said he participated in a variety of activities with Tamerlan, including discussing religious topics and hiking up a New Hampshire mountain in order to train like Islamic jihadist fighters. If convicted, he faces a maximum of up to 31 years in prison.
Tamerlan was killed in a police shootout four nights after the bombings, and Dzhokhar was arrested the next day.
-- Times staff writer Semuels reported from Boston, Serrano from Washington