Kazakh students drove BMW with license plate reading ‘Terrorista #1’; fathers say it was just a gag

An image of the BMW and plate from posted by Kadrybayev on VKontakte, a Russian social media site.
An image of the BMW and plate from posted by Kadrybayev on VKontakte, a Russian social media site.

The two Kazakh students arrested Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation are not accused of being part of the plot to set off the bombs, but questions have arisen about the novelty license plate that appeared on the front of the BMW they drove, which bore the words “Terrorista #1.”

Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev come off as fun-loving teens who did not realize what they were getting into when they allegedly disposed of a backpack and laptop belonging to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of planting the bombs that killed three and injured more than 260. The three knew each other because they went to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth together.

The government of Kazakhstan emphasized today that the young men were not charged with any involvement in the bombings themselves. “We would like to emphasize that our citizens did not receive charges of involvement in the organization of Boston marathon bombings. They were charged with destroying evidence,” the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on its website.

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But the men’s arrests have forced both of their fathers to answer questions about the plate on the black BMW they drove around in.

“Terrorista #1 doesn’t mean Osama bin Laden, doesn’t mean ‘terrorist.’ In their slang it’s means ‘happy-go-lucky, a leader of the pack, that sort of thing’ and not that they’re going to blow someone up,” Azamat’s father, Amir Ismagulov, said in a recent interview with a Kazakh television station. “They drove around in that car for four months and no one arrested them.”

Ismagulov is a member of the city council in Atyrau, Kazakhstan, a city on the Caspian Sea that is also known as the oil capital of the oil-rich Central Asian country. He is also a leader of the regional business council. Ismagulov was interviewed after the two young Kazakhs were taken into custody on immigration violations but before they were charged Wednesday in the Marathon bombing probe. Kazakh news agencies are reporting that Ismagulov has now left for the United States without commenting on the arrest of his son.

The father said in an interview with a Kazakh television station that Azamat almost never goes to a mosque and only in Kazakhstan.

He said that Azamat had called him when he and Dias were detained just after the bombing.

“They only got involved with Dzhokhar because he went to school with him,” Ismagulov said.

Azamat “told me, ‘We had no idea, papa, that he was the kind of guy who would hurt anyone.”

“He said, ‘We’re in shock.’”

Both fathers have said that Spanish friends bought the two young men the license plate after they bought a black BMW.

In an interview with the Kazakh site Tengri News on April 23, Murat Kadyrbayev, Dias’s father, said, “This joke led to trouble. But it was just a gag of their Spanish friends, just a gift.”

Raja Nageswaran, 25, an MBA grad student, said Wednesday that the two Kazakhs had been to the off-campus housing he shared with other international students a few times for parties. He said they were fun-loving and loved to party. Nothing much stood out about them, although they did like to drive their black BMW hard, making it squeal, he said. He couldn’t remember the license plates.

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev are facing charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice. They were arrested along with Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge, who faces a charge of making false statements to law enforcement officials in a terrorism investigation. Phillipos was also friends with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.