BOSTON (Reuters) - Two college friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were due in federal court on Tuesday to face charges of obstruction of justice for removing evidence from Tsarnaev's dorm room after the devastating attack.
The two students, who are from Kazakhstan, are accused of removing a backpack containing fireworks and a laptop computer from Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth as the FBI was searching for the accused bomber.
Tsarnaev, 20, is accused setting off a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the race's crowded finish line on April 15, killing three people and injuring 264 in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
The friends, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19, are charged with reaching out to Tsarnaev three days after the attack, when the FBI released still images of Dzhokhar and his older brother, Tamerlan, at the site of the bombing.
That FBI release - a call for help from the public in identifying the suspects - panicked the Tsarnaev brothers. Their efforts to flee Boston ended in a late-night gunfight with police in the suburb of Watertown on April 18.
Tamerlan died at the end of that gunbattle, with Dzhokhar running over his badly wounded brother with an SUV to flee the scene. After a day-long manhunt, police found Dzhokhar hiding in a boat parked in the backyard of home.
Prosecutors charged Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov with removing evidence from Tsarnaev's dorm room in an effort to protect him. They could face 25 years in prison or deportation if convicted.
The pair have been in federal custody since May 1, when lesser charges of conspiracy were filed against them. They were indicted on the obstruction-of-justice charges on August 8.
A third friend, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is engaged in talks with prosecutors aimed at settling a charge of making false statements in a terrorism investigation.
(Reporting by Daniel Lovering, writing by Scott Malone)