This year has not been kind for those in the West attempting to push back at the notion of Central Asia as fertile ground for Islamic extremism. Not only have high-profile incidents tied Central Asian nationals to the jihadist claques in Syria and Iraq – highlighted most recently by a U.S.-trained Tajik commander defecting to join ISIS – but earlier this year a handful of Uzbekistani and Kazakhstani nationals offered the United States its closest brush to that point with ISIS operations on US soil.
This week offered another notch against the idea in the West that Central Asia stands largely immune to Islamic extremism. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors requested a seven-year sentence for Kazakhstani Dias Kadyrbayev for obstructing the investigation into the 2013 Boston bombings. Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty last August, admitting that he had failed to alert authorities to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s identity and avoiding a potential 25-year sentence. Azamat Tazhayakov, another Kazakhstani national, also pled guilty to obstructing justice for removing a backpack with fireworks shells. Kadyrbayev will receive his sentencing on Tuesday, with Tazhayakov’s sentencing due to be handed down on June 5.
Everyone involved appears to accept that Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov had no knowledge of Tsarnaev’s plans ahead of time. Nonetheless, both are facing steep jail time for obstructing the investigation – and helping to lump Central Asia, in American minds, with other extremist-saturated swaths of Muslim-majority regions.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In addition to the bombings, the Tsarnaev brothers were also involved in the killing of MIT police officer Sean Collier. This week, Joseph Rogers, Collier’s step-father, reiterated the request for a seven-year sentence, linking Kadyrbayev to Collier. Wrote Rogers, “Had [Kadyrbayev] notified the police, rather than cover up for the alleged terrorists, it may have prevented the murder of Sean[.] … He chose to say nothing, and because of that, he has taken everything away from us.” Kadyrbayev, Rogers continued, “was well aware that his friend, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was a suspected terrorist … yet he took no action.”
There’s little reason to think Kadyrbayev, who is in the United States as an exchange student, will receive anything less than the seven-year sentence requested. And there’s less reason, unfortunately, to think that the sentencing – alongside the earlier ISIS-related arrests – will do anything to tamp down the association with Central Asia and Islamic extremism in the minds of many Americans. Despite the fact that Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov had no prior knowledge of the Tsarnaevs’ plans, and despite the obvious incompetence of the Uzbekistani and Kazakhstani nationals attempting to fight on ISIS’s behalf, the conflation of the region and extremism will only continue.
After all, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was originally from Kyrgyzstan. Which, for many Americans, will be evidence enough that Central Asia is yet another cesspool for Islamic extremism, facts and realities be damned.