By VOA News,
The leader of a Boston-based Ethiopian association says news that Robel Phillipos is being investigated in connection with the Marathon bombings came as a complete shock to the community.
Binyam Tamene – executive director of the Ethiopian Community Mutual Assistance Association — said he knew Phillipos as an exemplary young man.
“Robel was born in Cambridge and was a good kid,” he said. “He was good academically, his (single) mother took care of him very well, and he was able to go to one of the best universities here in Dartmouth – the University of Massachusetts.”
Phillipos – a U.S. citizen of Ethiopian descent – is one of three friends of accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Phillipos and two other 19-year-olds — Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev — were charged with obstruction of justice and lying to FBI investigators.
Tamene said Phillipos devoted most of his time and energy pursuing his studies. He said it’s difficult to assess what may have influenced the young man to engage in the acts alleged by investigators. The three young men are said to have thrown away a back-pack carrying explosives for fireworks and removed a lap top from Tsarnaev’s residence.
Tamene said he doesn’t believe the charges against Phillipos will cast a shadow over the Ethiopian community.
“I don’t think the community in general worries about what other people will say about Ethiopians, because we don’t have that history in the past. It’s difficult to think other communities will look at us differently,” he remarked.
A New Look at Robel Phillipos
BOSTON (WHDH) — Officials say 19-year-old Robel Phillipos has known Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for years, the two of them went to high school and college together.
Phillipos, a U.S. citizen, is one of the three suspects arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing, but the trio wasn’t associated with the attacks. Phillipos is accused of lying to the FBI. He appeared in federal court on May 1.
“My client is not charged with helping the suspect in anyway whatsoever, before or after,” said defense attorney Derege B. Demissie. “And he had no knowledge of the incident.”
But a criminal complaint says Phillipos lied to investigators three times about being in Tsarnaev’s dorm room days after the bombings. During a fourth interview, the FBI said Phillipos admitted to being in Tsarnaev’s room with the other suspects.
He saw Tsarnaev’s backpack with the empty explosives and “freaked out” that Tsarnaev was allegedly the marathon bomber. Phillipos told investigators that he didn’t know what the other two suspects did with the backpack because they were speaking in Russian and he didn’t understand.
Featured in an online video, neighbors described the teen, who is from Cambridge, as a good student focused on his studies.
“Robel is a nice boy, very nice kid — he [doesn’t] talk too much,” said neighbor, Tecleverhan Mengistu. “He’s a very nice boy.”
Phillipos, a naturalized citizen, was born in Ethiopia and lives in Cambridge with his single mother.
The family’s apartment building is located next to the gas station where the carjacking victim from the night of the shootout in Watertown escaped.