By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials on Friday charged a Kyrgyzstan national who bought dinner for the accused Boston Marathon bombers the night of the attack with interfering with the investigation into the deadly bombing.
Khairullozhon Matanov, a 23-year-old taxi driver who lives in Quincy, Massachusetts, faces one criminal count of destroying records and three counts of lying to officials in a terrorism investigation, according to court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Prosecutors said Matanov had been friends with accused bombers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, spoke with both in the days after the blast but lied to police about the extent of his relationship with the pair.
Matanov, who had hiked a New Hampshire mountain with Tamerlan Tsarnaev to "train like, and praise, the 'mujahideen,'" according to court papers, deleted searches related to the attacks from his computer, tried to dispose of cell phones he had used to contact the brothers, and denied knowing much about the pair in interviews with police.
Matanov was not accused of playing a role in the April 15, 2013, bombing, which killed three people and injured 264. The Tsarnaev brothers have also been accused of shooting dead a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology three days after the attack as they tried to flee Boston.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died after a shootout with police following that incident, while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended early the next evening. The surviving brother, now 20, is awaiting trial and faces the possibility of execution if convicted.
Matanov told an unidentified witness cooperating with the government that "the bombings could have had a just reason, such as being done in the name of Islam, that he would support the bombings if the reason were just or the attack had been done by the Taliban, and that the victims had gone to paradise," according to the papers.
Matanov was arrested early Friday by members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force at his home in Quincy. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of destroying evidence and eight years for each false statement count.
He is the fourth person to face criminal charges for interfering with the investigation into the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The others are three college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Kazakhstan exchange students Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, as well as Robel Phillipos of Cambridge. Prosecutors contended that after the FBI released photos of the suspected bombers, the three men realized the suspects' identities and removed a laptop and backpack containing empty fireworks shells from Dzhokhar's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)