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Boston Marathon bombings: Taxi driver charged with obstructing investigation

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Lowell Sun and FBI/AP/File

(Read caption) This combination of file photos shows brothers Tamerlan (l.) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers. A taxi driver is accused of lying to investigators about how well he knew Tamerlan.

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Federal officials on Friday charged a Kyrgyzstan citizen who they say had substantial contact with the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers the week of the attack with obstructing the investigation into the bombings.

Khairullozhon Matanov, a taxi driver who is in his early 20s and living in Quincy, Mass., is accused of lying to investigators about how well he knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev – the relationship involved shared extremist beliefs, US officials say – and misleading officials about the extent of his contact with the Tsarnaev brothers in the days after the bombings.

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Mr. Matanov, who has been in the United States since 2010, is charged with one count of destroying, altering, and falsifying records and three counts of making false statements in a federal terrorism investigation, according to the indictment. He was arrested Friday morning and is scheduled to appear in court in the afternoon.

Federal prosecutors allege that Matanov “participated in a variety of activities with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, including discussing religious topics and hiking up a New Hampshire mountain in order to train like, and praise, the ‘mujahideen,’ " according to the indictment.

On the evening of April 15, 2013, after two bombs had splintered through a crowd at the Boston Marathon that afternoon, Matanov allegedly spent more than 40 minutes on the phone with the older Tsarnaev brother and then invited both of them to dinner, buying their meals, prosecutors say. According to the indictment Matanov, who allegedly expressed support for the bombings after hearing about them, visited the older brother at his home in Cambridge, Mass., on April 17. 

On April 18, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released photos of the Tsarnaev brothers, and Matanov allegedly became aware that he knew the two bombing suspects, the indictment says. At that point, he wiped from his computer evidence of his searches about the bombings, as well as files suggestive of “the extent to which he shared the suspected bombers’ philosophical justification for violence, among other topics of interest,” according to the indictment.

On April 19, Matanov went to the Braintree, Mass., police department and allegedly told a detective about some, but not all, of his contact with the Tsarnaev brothers, according to the indictment. The indictment also contends that in subsequent interviews with the FBI, Matanov “continued to falsify, conceal, and cover up evidence of the extent of his friendship, contact and communication with the Tsarnaevs during the week of the bombings, especially during the hours following the bombings.”

The maximum sentence for the count of destruction of evidence is 20 years in prison, and eight years for each false statement count, according to a press release.

The indictment does not accuse Matanov of participating in the bombings or of knowing about them in advance. Three people were killed and at least 264 injured in the bombings.

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The indictment resulted from an ongoing grand jury investigation into the bombings, a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation told The Boston Globe.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed amid a shootout with police, after the brothers allegedly shot a police officer to death, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is awaiting a fall trial at which he faces the death penalty, if convicted.