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Teenager accused of lying in Boston bomb case out on bail

Defendant Robel Phillipos is pictured in a courtroom sketch, appearing at the John Joseph Moakley United States Federal Courthouse in Boston
Defendant Robel Phillipos is pictured in a courtroom sketch, appearing at the John Joseph Moakley United States Federal Courthouse in Boston

By Tim McLaughlin

BOSTON (Reuters) - The teenager accused of lying to FBI agents in the Boston Marathon bombing case was freed on $100,000 bail on Monday pending a later trial date, and investigators said bomb fragments suggest they were less sophisticated than homemade ones used by insurgents.

While out on bail, Robel Phillipos will be under the custody of his mother and must wear a GPS bracelet, U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler ordered in federal court in Boston. The $100,000 bail for the 19-year-old was secured by real estate put up by a third party, the judge said.

Phillipos, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is accused of making false statements to FBI agents investigating the April 15th attack that killed three people and injured 264 near the marathon's finish line. He was not charged with direct involvement in the attack.

Phillipos' mother was "very emotional," after the ruling, the teenager's attorney, Derege Demissie, said. About 60 people, including friends, family and a large contingent from the Boston Ethiopian community, appeared in the courthouse on Monday showing their support.

Defense lawyers argued he was not a flight risk, has no prior criminal history and can refute FBI allegations that he interfered with their investigation, court records show. In affidavits of support filed with the court, Phillipos is described as a social worker's caring son who read to kindergarten students.

Last week, U.S. authorities charged Phillipos and two 19-year-old students from Kazakhstan with interfering with their investigation as a manhunt for suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was under way.

After the hearing, Phillipos walked through the courthouse wearing street clothes and a black baseball cap and was surrounded by the contingent of family and friends.

Federal investigators, meanwhile, are focusing on two main points in their continuing investigation.

They are examining forensic evidence, most notably computers seized from the suspects and possibly their associates, a U.S. national security official said. They are also focused on a trickle of evidence that is coming in from Russian authorities, the official said.

All the analyses of the bomb fragments and related evidence suggests that the bombs were very unsophisticated, far less so than homemade bombs used by insurgents in places like Iraq.

Investigators believe it is quite likely that the bomb designs at least partly came from the article "How to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom," published a couple of years ago by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's "Inspire" magazine and then republished earlier this year in a glossy brochure entitled the "Lone Mujahid Pocketbook."

FINDING BURIAL SITE

The family of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in a police gun battle, struggled on Monday to find a burial site for him.

Relatives have said they want to have him buried locally, but several cemeteries in Massachusetts said they would not accept the remains. Under Islamic law, the body cannot be cremated, a procedure used in some cases of notorious criminals such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Phillipos and the two Kazakhstan teens are described as college friends of the surviving suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar. Authorities charged the Kazakhs, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, with conspiring to obstruct justice by disposing of a backpack containing fireworks they found in Tsarnaev's dorm room.

Lawyers for Phillipos point out that he has not been charged with removing or tampering with evidence, but with lying to authorities about the conduct of his friends.

Their cover-up, as alleged by investigators, happened after the FBI released surveillance photos of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan. Dzhokhar was found bleeding while hiding in a covered boat in a back yard in Watertown, a Boston suburb.

Phillipos was born in Boston and raised in Cambridge as part of a loving Ethiopian extended family, according to affidavits filed in federal court.

Richard Feigenberg, who taught math to Phillipos in the seventh and eighth grades, described his former student as a caring member of the school community.

"When I asked for someone to take out the trash or read to a kindergarten student, it was most often Robel who volunteered," Feigenberg said in an affidavit. "He always had a wonderful smile that warmed the whole classroom."

Relatives of Phillipos described him as a kind, polite and respectful young man, according to affidavits.

"When I heard the news of Robel's arrest, I was extremely shocked and heartbroken," said Kifle Alemu, an uncle. "I was unable to wrap my mind around what was going on, especially knowing Robel as a gentle young man who has never been in any trouble."

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Philip Barbara)

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