Taxi driver charged with attacking FBI agents probing Boston bombings

BOSTON (AFP) - A 23-year-old taxi driver was charged Friday with obstructing FBI agents investigating the Boston Marathon attacks that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others last year.

Khairullozhon Matanov, a citizen of Kyrgyzstan working legally in the United States, was friends with the alleged bombers and shared their justification for violence, say US officials.

He is accused of lying to FBI agents about his friendship, contact and communication with the suspected bombers after the April 15, 2013 attacks, and about his beliefs about violence.

He was charged on one count of destroying and falsifying records by allegedly deleting videos and Internet searches from his computer, and three counts of making false statements.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 44 years in prison and a fine of US$250,000 (S$ 310,000). He has not been charged with taking part in the attacks or of knowing about the bombings ahead of time.

The bombings were allegedly planned and carried out by ethnic Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Tamerlan was shot dead by police on April 19, 2013, after killing an officer and Dzhokhar stands accused of 30 federal charges, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

In the 20-page indictment, US officials say Matanov became friends with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and also knew Dzhokhar. Just 40 minutes after the bombings, Matanov allegedly invited Tamerlan to dinner, driving him and his brother to a restaurant where they allegedly discussed the attacks over a meal.

The next day he tried repeatedly to ring Dzhokhar but could not get through, nevertheless speaking to Tamerlan and visiting him at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home that evening.

He and Tamerlan previously discussed religion and in the past went hiking in New Hampshire "to train like, and praise, the mujahideen," according to the indictment.

Matanov also told a witness he would support the bombings if the "reason were just or the attack had been done by the Taleban, and that the victims had gone to paradise," the indictment said.

After news outlets reported the FBI were looking for the brothers, Matanov allegedly deleted Internet searches for their photographs and files with violent content or calls to violence.

"He 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 indictment said.

The suspect has been living in the United States since 2010, working various jobs and lives in Quincy, north of Boston.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.