By Malena Carollo and Tess Owen
The Q and B trains rattled overhead Thursday, while Brighton Beach Avenue bustled as usual. Women, some in magenta fur bomber jackets and long mink coats ,lined up for piroshkis and hot tea from street vendors.
But just a short distance away from the main thoroughfare, all was not business as usual. In an Uzbek restaurant called Oasis, community leaders held a press conference to address the Wedenesday arrests of Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, and Abror Habibov, 30, for allegedly plotting to travel to Syria and wage jihad.
“As a Turkish American community, we have no relations to those who committed any terrorism,” said Ibrahim Ben, leader of the nearby American Turkish Eyup Sultan Cultural Center. “We share this neighborhood together. We live together. We have to come together to protect each other.”
Community leaders at the event included Farhod Sulton, president of the Vatandosh Uzbek-American Federation, Stefan Ringel, communications director at the Brooklyn Borough president’s office and Borough President Eric Adams.
One of the men arrested, Habibov, also an Uzbek citizen, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida. He reportedly encouraged and provided financial assistance to the other two men’s efforts to join the ranks of ISIS.
Uzbeki federation president Sulton said he knew Habibov through previous interactions at the Brooklyn-based federation, but that the two lost touch in the past few years.
“He wasn’t a crazy guy,” Sulton said. “He was a normal guy who wanted to build a business and make a good life.”
Sulton also said that he thinks the three men didn’t have a “basic formal education in Islam,” and that they derived their extremism from radical ideas circulated on the Internet.
The FBI arrested Saidakhmetov, a permanent resident of the United States and citizen of Kazakhstan, at JFK Airport Wednesday as he attempted to board a flight to Istanbul. According to a court document released Thursday, Juraboev, also a permanent resident of the United States and an Uzbek citizen, allegedly planned to follow Saidakhmetov a month later.
The two purchased their plane tickets to Istanbul from Nil Travel Agency on Coney Island Avenue, just a block up the street from the Uzbeki restaurant, Oasis, where the news conference was held. Employees at the small travel agency refused to comment and directed reporters to a press release to answer questions about the purchase.
“Overall as a company, we feel devastated because our companies [sic] name is in this type of incident in this type of matter,” the travel agency said in the release. The men, the release said, did not seem suspicious or unusual when they purchased the tickets.
Down the street, Maya Aliyeva, an Azerbaijani native who has lived in the United States for 14 years, was browsing English language guides at a local bookstore on Brighton Beach Ave.
“I love America,” she said. “These men don’t want to be American, they want to take what this country has given them and use it in a bad way. This news makes me very sad.”
Like other members of the community, male patrons at Al Mustafa Center Islamic Center on Coney Island Ave and Oceanview Parkway were alarmed at questions that their center could be perceived negatively in relation to the men’s arrest. Despite a language barrier, the men repeated, “Everything is fine, there are no bad people here, thank god, everything is fine.”