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May 01, 2013

How Did Dzohkhar's Buddies Know to Remove Vasline from His Room?

thunderb asks a great question.

First, the background. The three friends of the Chechens arrested today claim they are innocent of any terrorist intent and only removed certain articles from the Tsarnaev's home to keep their friends from getting into trouble. So apparently they're copping to the lesser charges of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting a fugitive but are claiming to have had no bad intent beyond helpin' out a pal.

Okay. So that's the story.

Now, here are the articles they removed and attempted to dispose of:

Two men from Kazakhstan and a man from Cambridge were arrested and charged today in the Boston Marathon bombings investigation, federal prosecutors said.

Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both 19 and of New Bedford, were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice by plotting to dispose of a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks belonging to bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the US attorney’s office said in a statement.

Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge was charged with making false statements to law enforcement officials in a terrorism investigation, prosecutors said. All three began attending the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2011, the same university Tsarnaev attended.

...

Three days after the blasts, on April 18, the three men allegedly removed Tsarnaev’s backpack, which contained fireworks that had been opened and emptied of gunpowder, from his dormitory room.

Suspecting that Tsarnaev was involved in the bombing after authorities released surveillance video of the bombers that afternoon, the trio decided to throw the backpack and fireworks in the trash “because they did not want to get Tsarnaev into trouble,” according to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent in support of the charges.

On Friday, authorities recovered the backpack from a landfill in New Bedford. Inside, agents found fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, and a UMass Dartmouth homework assignment sheet, among other things. The homework sheet was for a class in which Tsarnaev was enrolled, the agent said in the sworn statement. It wasn’t clear from the affidavit what happened to the laptop.

Vaseline? Why would they dispose of Vaseline?

I'm not trying to be crude here, but if you spotted a jar of Vasline in the room of a man, would you assume it was Evidence Against Him in a Bombing Crime?

Or would you assume it was for cosmetic purposes, or masturbation?

Why would you think that Vasline was evidence against him in a bombing?

Now, can Vaseline be used in making bombs?

Well wonder of wonders, Vaseline is in fact a common ingredient in homemade bombs!

I didn't know that. Did you know that? Maybe I've heard that once or twice on like 24 or something, but the use of Vaseline in home explosives (mix five parts Vaseline to one part explosive powder!) was not in my Active Knowledge Base.

Was it part of yours?

You know whose Active Knowledge Base apparently did contain this lethal bit of trivia?

The three people arrested today, who seemed to immediately recognize the explosive combination of gunpowder + Vaseline.

Just helpin' out a friend. Luckily for the Brothers Tsarnaev, these three college students just happened to also know a thing or two about how to make a homemade bomb, and so knew to dispose of the Vaseline.

Caveat: MWR catches me making an assumption I didn't know I'd made, but I did.

I assumed the three friends gathered the stuff and placed it into the backpack. In fact, we don't know that:

Just to play devil's advocate, the article doesn't say that these three people packed the backpack. It says that they chose to dispose of the backpack THAT CONTAINED the empty firecrackers.

Right, he's right, I made that assumption, and I have no evidence for it, now that I see the assumption.

It could have happened as MWR suggests

Update: Nope, the original assumption, while an assumption I shouldn't have made, does turn out to be correct. Per the affidavit, specifically Para 27 of the facts alleged, specifies that one of the three friends grabbed the Vaseline precisely because he thought it was used in bomb-making.

What a useful thing to know when you're collecting up evidence that might land your friend in the gas chamber. I guess some people are just lucky.

Corrected: I thought the three friends were also Chechens but commenters say at least two were Kazahks. And also, that all are male. I actually don't know so I've simply rewritten to avoid any characterization of country of origin or gender. I gotta catch up on this stuff, but I wanted to get rid of the apparently-wrong information first.



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posted by Ace at 03:04 PM

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