NEW BEDFORD — Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov were college roommates who clicked with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, another soccer-loving immigrant from the former Soviet Union who, unlike them, blended seamlessly into the United States. Tsarnaev spoke perfect English and knew where to shop and how to have a good time.
‘’He knew the system,’’ said Robert G. Stahl, Kadrybayev’s criminal lawyer. ‘’He knew how to go purchase things, where to go in college, what to do. So they gravitated toward each other.’’
The nature of that friendship came under sharp scrutiny Wednesday in Boston, where the men faced charges in two federal courtrooms, first in immigration court, where they had an initial hearing on possible deportation to their native Kazakhstan in Central Asia. Then in the afternoon, federal officials charged the roommates and a third man, a US citizen from Cambridge, with helping cover up their friend’s alleged role in the Boston Marathon bombings.
In immigration court Wednesday morning, lawyers for Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov sought to portray the 19-year-olds as mere acquaintances of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who speaks fluent Russian and also 19 and in the same sophomore class at UMass Dartmouth.
Lawyers said the Kazakh men were engineering majors whose extremely low grades were endangering their student visas. Kadyrbayev was expelled after the fall semester because of low grades, a university official said.
One of Tazhayakov’s lawyers said in immigration court Wednesday that Tazhayakov was reinstated after switching his major to economics.
‘’It’s a simple student violation’’ of their visas, said Linda Cristello, a Boston immigration lawyer, after the initial hearings in immigration court.
In Kazakhstan, Kadyrbayev’s father Murat recently told the online Kazakh news site Tengrinews.kz that his son got excellent grades in high school and ‘’knew Tsarnaev’’ in college and hung out with him sometimes.
But federal officials offered a different portrait of Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov — and a third friend, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, in the criminal allegations against them Wednesday in US District Court.
Federal agents alleged that Tsarnaev and the Kazakh men were good friends who met in fall 2011 and grew closer last year, when Kadyrbayev apparently posted a photograph of the three in New York’s Times Square on his VKontakte social media page.
Friends and court records said the friends went to parties and shared dinners and rides to class. Kadyrbayev visited Tsarnaev’s home in Cambridge and met his family members, according to court records.
Two months before the bombings, Tsarnaev, Tazhayakov, and others gathered on the banks of the Charles River and ignited fireworks. One month before the bombing, court records show, Tsarnaev confided in the men over dinner that he knew how to make a bomb.
It is unclear how Robel Phillipos met the two Kazakh men. Phillipos and Tsarnaev were in the class of 2011 at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
All four men enrolled in UMass Dartmouth in 2011, though school officials said Phillipos withdrew last year.