A podcast in Kazakhstan is under controversy for inviting a friend of the Boston Marathon bomber

Dias Kadyrbayev on the Zamandas podcast. Screenshot from Kana Beisekeyev‘s YouTube channel. Fair use.

On August 4, one of the most popular YouTube podcasts in Kazakhstan, Zamandas, released an episode with Dias Kadyrbayev, who is notorious for being one of the close friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing in Boston, USA. On the podcast, Kadyrbayev shared how he first met Dzhokhar, what happened to him before and after the attack, as well as the court process and serving his prison sentence.

Here is the episode of the Zamandas podcast with Dias Kadyrbayev.

Ten years ago, on April 15, 2013, a 19-year-old Dzhokhar and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 281 people. During the manhunt, the Tsarnev brothers shot dead one police officer; another one died a year later from the injuries sustained while trying to arrest them. Dzhokhar ran over his brother and two police officers, killing Tamerlan before escaping. He was arrested on April 19, after a shootout with the police.

Later in court, he explained the attacks as retribution for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and claimed that they were not members of any terrorist organization. Dzhokhar received the death penalty in court.

Here is a trailer of the Netflix documentary about the Boston Marathon bombing released in 2023.

Along with another student from Kazakhstan, Azamat Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev was convicted of obstructing US justice during the investigation of the terrorist attack. In practice, he was found guilty of destroying evidence that could aid the investigation.

Several days after the attack, when the police released a video footage of suspects without revealing their identities, Kadyrbayev texted Dzhokhar asking if it was him or not in the news, which he neither confirmed nor denied. He told Kadyrbayev to go to his dorm room and take whatever he wanted and stopped replying to messages.

Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov, and another friend went to his room, searched it, and took Dzhokhar’s personal belongings: laptop, flash drive, headphones, a white hat he wore on the day of the attack, ashtray, backpack, fireworks and bottle of Vaseline, which in theory could be used to make explosives. Kadyrbayev later threw all these items into a trash container.

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbaeyev were sentenced to three and a half and six years of prison time respectively. Kadyrbaev served four years of his sentence in the US and the remaining two in Kazakhstan after being extradited in 2018.

His appearance caused controversy on social media. The critics viewed the episode as an attempt to whitewash a criminal by providing him with a platform and not asking tough questions. On the podcast, Kadyrbayev presented his actions as dumb mistakes he committed at a young age without thinking of their possible consequences. In court, he had pleaded guilty. His retelling of the events excluded the key detail of taking the Vaseline bottle and fireworks from Dzhokhar’s room, which the hosts also did not ask him about. This crucial detail changes the whole narrative.

Here is a thread on X (formerly Twitter) that compares Kadyrbayev's retelling of events on the podcast with the court case files.

I was surprised with many positive comments [about the podcast] that I decided to break down this whole story into facts (from the court case files) and Dias's version (he omitted very important details).

Contrary to the critics, another group of listeners welcomed his appearance, highlighting his inner strength to go through hardships of prison life and how his experiences can serve as lessons to youth.

Kana Beisekeyev, a co-host of the podcast, responded on X (formerly Twitter):

Zamandas did not try to whitewash Dias and make him a hero. He served his prison sentence. The case is closed now. The goal of the podcast was that young people and students and other people from Kazakshstan do not repeat the mistakes of Dias and Azamat.

The episode seems to have taken place with the attitude “He may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard” without regard for its consequences. In the last decade, Central Asia has come under the negative limelight numerous times whenever its natives committed or attempted terrorist attacks in the US and European countries. These events have contributed to securitizing the region, presenting it as an exporter of terrorism and violence. Kadyrbayev’s appearance on Zamandas does not do any good for Central Asia’s image abroad.

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