UMass Dartmouth: We Didn’t Sell The ‘Terrorista #1’ License Plate

A vanity plate on a car owned by suspects connected to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is raising eyebrows.

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Following the arrest of three friends who allegedly helped Boston bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev dispose of crucial evidence in the FBI’s investigation of the explosions, officials are starting to question the faux-license plate of the individuals in custody, which had the words “Terrorista #1” written on it.

According to reports, a black BMW driven by Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, friends of the bombing suspect, had a plastic plate on the front of the vehicle with the words clearly visible. Above the words it reads “UMass Dartmouth,” the college where officials say they met Dzhokhar in 2011, before becoming close friends. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, both of New Bedford, were charged on Wednesday, May 1, with conspiracy to obstruct justice, after they allegedly tossed out a backpack that belonged to Dzhokhar containing a laptop and fireworks.

FBI officials claim both Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were trying to help their college friend “avoid trouble” in connection with the deadly attack on Boylston Street. Following their arrests, the wording on the plate has come into question, however, family members of the two suspects say the license plate on their vehicle was merely a joke, and is being taken out of context.

Kadyrbayev’s father told Tengri News, an English language news website in Kazakhstan, that the students owned the BMW with the vanity license plate, but it was a “joke” gift from their friends in Spain. “This joke led to trouble. But it was just a gag of their Spanish friends, just a gift,” he said. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov allegedly purchased the car together during their time in the U.S. so they could travel between school, and their apartment in New Bedford.

The Boston Globe reports that the father of Tazhayakov, Amir Ismagulov, also acknowledged the plate, but brushed it off as nothing that should connect them to acts of terrorism. According to the report, he told a Kazakh television station that the pair rode around in the car for months without being questioned about the vanity plate, and that the wording didn’t mean “terrorist” in the sense of “Osama bin Laden,” but rather, they were “‘happy-go-lucky,” and it was in a “leader-of-the-pack” context, the report said.

The plate in question, which was also featured in a Tweet from Dzhokhar’s official Twitter account, is also brandishing the words “UMass Dartmouth” on it, which is where the suspects once attended school. But school officials responsible for selling merchandise with the UMass Dartmouth logo say they have never had those license plates in their store. “Someone probably just made it off the Internet, but it definitely did not come from us,” says Jann Stahl, interim manager and general merchandise buyer at UMass Dartmouth’s campus store.

Stahl says in her 16 years as an employee, she has never come across the vanity plates with customized wording, and a third-party vendor likely put it together for the suspects. “It was likely from an event…held on campus, and a vendor came in and did that. We would never sell something like that. One of my students said she had a similar plate, but it was a private company that [made it].” UMass Dartmouth’s website for official licensing rights says “the University of Massachusetts licenses only those products which reflect positively upon the university and are in keeping with the University’s mission,” something that Stahl claims was obviously not reflected in the vanity plate on the suspects’ car. A search of the school’s online store for the plates was also inconclusive, and they were not found on the site.