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Kazakh Teen Charged In U.S. With Aiding IS Has Murky Past

A court sketch of Akhror Saidakhmetov (left), 19, and Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev (right), 24, appearing in a Brooklyn federal court in New York on February 25.
A court sketch of Akhror Saidakhmetov (left), 19, and Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev (right), 24, appearing in a Brooklyn federal court in New York on February 25.

The background of a Kazakh teenager arrested in the United States on suspicion of assisting the Islamic State (IS) group is shrouded in mystery, an investigation by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service has revealed.

Akhror Saidakhmetov, aged 19, was charged in a U.S. court on February 25 with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. He had been arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul in Turkey, allegedly planning to go on from there to Syria.

Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry said that Saidakhmetov had left the country for Uzbekistan in 2011 and since then had not returned. The Ministry also said that it was willing to assist the United States in its investigation into Saidakhmetov.

However, relatives of the teenager say that Saidakhmetov likely left Kazakhstan for Uzbekistan as a small child, and grew up there before returning to Kazakhstan as a teenager for an unspecified period of time.

Saidakhmetov's father Abror Saidakhmetov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyq, on March 4 that he had not seen his son for many years.

Abror, who lives in the village of Shornak in the South Kazahstan region, is a construction worker. He divorced Saidakhmetov's mother Sayora Gulamova in 1997, when Saidakhmetov was two years old. Gulamova went to Uzbekistan, taking her young son with her, Abror said.

Several years ago, Abror found out that Gulamova and her son had gone to the United States.

Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry said that their records showed that Saidakhmetov had been born in the southern city of Turkistan and that he was registered as having left Kazakhstan at the age of 16.

He told Radio Azattyq that he learned of his son's arrest a few days ago.

"At the beginning of March I was supposed to go to a construction site in Astana. After I heard about it all, I haven't been able to get over it," Abror said.

Abror told Radio Azattyq that he had not seen his son since he was a baby.

"I saw him a few times when he was small. I went to the region where he was living but there were times when I came back without having seen him. It seems he came back to Kazakhstan when he grew up. But I don't know when and why he came back," Abror said.

According to Abror, relatives said that his son had been a good student who went to school and had enrolled at a college.

Abror believes that his son is "not capable" of the accusations against him.

"Friends from Astana are saying that his lawyer is arguing that there's a lack of evidence. I'm hoping for the best," says Abror, who explains that he can't afford to travel to the United States.

Instead, Abror is hoping that the Kazakh authorities will help his son.

Villagers in Abror's village of Shornak were also unable to shed more light on the past or character of Saidakhmetov. Those who spoke to Radio Azattyq on condition of anonymity said that Saidakhmetov had been too young in 1997 when he left the village for them to be able to comment on his character.

Mystery also surrounds the question of where Saidakhmetov lived when he was growing up.

Radio Azattyq reported that it has information suggesting that, after she left Kazakhstan, Saidakhmetov's mother lived in the village of Almazar in the Chinaz district in Uzbekistan's Tashkent province.

Radio Azattyq spoke to several schools in the Chinaz region of Uzbekistan where Saidakhmetov might have studied if he had lived in the area, but they refused to provide any information.

Saidakhmetov was arrested alongside two other men, both of whom are reportedly natives of Uzbekistan: 24-year-old Abdurasul Juraboev and 30-year-old Abror Habibov.

Juraboev came to the attention of federal agents in August 2014, when he posted comments on an Uzbek-language website about shooting President Obama.

While Saidakhmetov and Juraboev were arrested in Brooklyn in New York, Habibov was detained in Jacksonville, Florida, where he ran kiosks that repaired cellphones and sold spatulas. Saidakhmetov had worked for Habibov at kiosks in Philadelphia, Virginia and Savannah, Georgia, according to the indictment.

The young man somehow became radicalized, and planned to travel to Syria via Turkey and join the Islamic State group, according to the prosecutors. Habibov is accused of providing Saidakhmetov with financial help to do so.

On March 3, a Jacksonville court ruled to transfer Habibov to New York to face charges there alongside Saidakhmetov and Juraboev.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world.


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