May 14, 2014 / 11:06 AM / 4 years ago

FBI aimed snipers' rifles at accused Boston bomber's friends: agent

BOSTON (Reuters) - FBI agents searching for the accused Boston Marathon bomber surrounded an apartment where two of the suspect’s friends were living and trained the laser scopes of sniper rifles on them, a federal agent testified on Wednesday.

Four days after the bombing, heavily armed law enforcement agents surrounded the building where two college friends of accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lived, acting on information, later proven inaccurate, that the suspect was hiding in there.

“They focused their laser-scoped rifles, their long weapons, on the occupants inside,” after the pair, both Kazakh nationals, peered out the window at the police who surrounded them, FBI special agent John Walker testified at a pre-trial hearing.

They would likely have been able to see the red laser dots of the gunsights on their bodies, Walker acknowledged.

The two Kazakh exchange students, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, as well as Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, have been charged with hindering the probe into the April 15, 2013, bombing attack that killed three people and injured more than 260.

Kadyrbayev’s attorneys have argued that his early statements to investigators, made after the raid on his New Bedford, Massachusetts, apartment were made while he was held by police after a warrantless search of his property and should not be admitted at his trial, which is due to begin in June.

Kadyrbayev, who was brought handcuffed to a state police barracks and was held shirtless during hours of questioning by police, is also expected to take the stand this week to describe the experience.

A second FBI special agent, Farbod Azad, who separately interviewed Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov at the state police barracks, testified that he advised each man to sign a form acknowledging that answering questions was voluntary.

Defense attorney Nicholas Wooldridge, for Azamat Tazhayakov, speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts May 13, 2014, following a pre-trial hearing in the case against the three friends, including Tazhayakov, of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who are charged with interfering with the investigation into the blasts. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Kadyrbayev asked about having an attorney present, Azad said.

“After reading the form, he asked us ‘do I need a lawyer,'” Azad said. “I explained to him that we cannot offer any legal advice ... you have to decide that for yourself.”

Lawyers for Tazhayakov and Phillipos withdrew requests that U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock suppress their early statements, saying they did not wish to have their clients testify after separate trials that are to begin in September.

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Woodlock warned that if he found at trial that the other suspects’ statements had been involuntary, he would order a mistrial, allowing them to walk free.

Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov, as well as Kadyrbayev’s girlfriend, were questioned and held hours after Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev engaged in a nighttime gunbattle with police that left Tamerlan dead, but which Dzhokhar escaped.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 20, was later found hiding in a drydocked boat in a Watertown, Massachusetts, backyard, near the site of the shootout and about 55 miles north of the New Bedford raid.

None of the friends were charged with taking part in the attack, but prosecutors contend the three went to Tsarnaev’s dormitory room three days later and removed a backpack and laptop computer as police searched for the suspected bomber.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges, which carry a penalty of up to 25 years in prison, while Phillipos faces a less serious charge of lying to investigators, which could mean a possible 16-year sentence.

Marc Fucarile, who lost his right leg in the bombing attack, attended Wednesday’s hearing wearing a T-shirt bearing the “Boston Strong” slogan that served as a rallying cry for the city after the largest mass-casualty attack on the United States since September 11, 2001.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Gunna Dickson

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