Official: Arrested student entered US without visa
By ALICIA A. CALDWELL Associated Press May 1, 2013 3:26PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — One of three college students arrested Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombings case was allowed to return to the United States from Kazakhstan in January despite not having a valid student visa, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Authorities charged the student — a friend and classmate of one of the men accused of setting off the pair of deadly explosions April 15 — with helping to remove a laptop and backpack from the suspect’s dormitory room after the attacks and before the FBI searched it.
The disclosure was another instance of possible lapses by the federal government in the months before the bombings. The Obama administration earlier this week announced an internal review of how U.S. intelligence agencies shared sensitive information and whether the government could have prevented the attack. Republicans in Congress have promised oversight hearings starting next week.
Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested three college friends of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including Azamat Tazhayakov, a friend and classmate of Tsarnaev’s at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Tazhayakov left the U.S. in December and returned Jan. 20. But in early January, his student visa status was terminated because he was academically dismissed from the university, the law enforcement official told the AP.
The official said information about Tazhayakov’s status was in the Homeland Security Department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, called SEVIS, when Tazhayakov arrived in New York in January.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss details of Tazhayakov’s immigration history.
DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said that when Tazhayakov returned on Jan. 20, Customs and Border Protection officials had not been notified that he was no longer a student.
“DHS has recently reformed the student visa system to ensure that CBP is provided with real-time updates on all relevant student visa information,” Boogaard said. “At the time of re-entry there was no derogatory information that suggested this individual posed a national security or public safety threat.”
Tazhayakov and another student from Kazakhstan, Dias Kadyrbayev, were detained last month on immigration charges. They were arrested on federal criminal charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Robel Phillipos, 19, was also arrested and charged with willfully making materially false statements to federal law enforcement officials during a terrorism investigation.
Questions about Tazhayakov’s immigration status came up Wednesday during an immigration hearing when a judge questioned how he was able to return to the U.S. in January. A lawyer for Tazhayakov said he had re-enrolled in the university with a different major after returning to the country.
Associated Press writer Mark Pratt in Boston contributed to this report.