Uzbek Terror Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

Fazliddin Kurbanov, a 30 year old Uzbek truck driver legally residing in the U.S. has pleaded not guilty to terror charges in Boise, Idaho. He's accused of providing material support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a designated terrorist organization. He also faces charges in Utah.

The U.S. Attorney says his case is not related to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Wendy Olson, the U.S. attorney in Idaho, said Kurbanov is the only person charged, and any potential threat was contained by his arrest. "He was closely monitored during the course of the investigation," she said. "The investigation has been under way for some time."

I wonder if this case is connected to the ongoing case in Colorado against Jamshid Muhtorov (an Uzbek political refugee and truck driver, living in Colorado) and Bakhtiyor Jumaev, (added later, from Philadelphia, who has an asylum application pending.) While Kurbanov's alleged illegal activity occurs a year after that of Muhtorov and Jumaev, and both have been detained pending trial making it unlikely there's a current connection between them, there was extensive electronic and FISA surveillance used in that case and thorough searches of Jumaev's computers. Muhtorov and Jumaev are charged with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union. [More...]

From Muhtarov's complaint:

The FBI has been investigating Jamshid MUHTOROV based on his communications with www.sodiqlar.com website administrator and Islamic Jihad Union ("IJU") facilitator "Muhammad." "Muhammad" is known as "Abu Muhammad." (Hereafter referred to as Muhammad in this "Facts ofthe Case" section) MUHTOROV communicated with Muhammad using at least two email addresses through the IJU -affiliated email address sodiqlar@gmail.com. MUHTOROV's two email addresses are ***** and *****. Pursuant to court authorization, the FBI obtained the email communications for both of these accounts.

Additionally, pursuant to court authorization, the FBI obtained communications originating from MUHTOROV's phone lines. FBI lawful search and surveillance has shown that the email address ***** is associated with and used by Jamshid Muhtorov. The FBI lawfully discovered that these email accounts are regularly accessed through a Sony Vaio laptop computer with a Toshiba hard drive, serial number ******. Additionally, through legally authorized methods, the FBI learned that the mobile phone used by MUHTOROV is an Android Blackberry with the telephone number ******.

Muhtorov quit his truck driving job in January, 2012, planning to fly to Turkey. He was arrested at the airport in Chicago before boarding his flight. A few months later, Jumaev was arrested in Philadelphia and added to the case.

Another difference between the cases is that Kurbanov was allegedly providing support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, while Muhtorov and Jumaev were allegedly providing support to the IJU, which is an offshoot of the IMU. Opinions seem to vary on the current connection (if any) between the groups and whether one or both are affiliated with al Qaida. Some say both groups have expanded their sights past Uzbekistan, others disagree and say one or the other of the groups is all but dead. That's a discussion that is way beyond my skill set.

What does seem apparent in both cases (as in many other recent cases) is that none of these individuals were planning attacks in the United States or against Americans.

Jumaev's lawyer equated the secrecy of the FISA information to Kafka.

Josef K., the tragic protagonist in Franz
Kafka's The Trial, was arrested by two agents "one fine morning" and spent a nighmarish year in jail waiting to stand trial. He had no idea of the charges against him or what secret court authorized the process that led to his arrest. One year later, two agents again came for the unknowing Josef K and took him to a quarry outside of town. There, he was executed. Surely Josef K. would sympathize with the not too dissimilar circumstances confronting defendant Jumaev.

Yesterday's FBI's press release on the arrest of Kuranov credits the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Colorado, among others.

“Today’s arrest and these indictments underscore our commitment to aggressively and thoroughly investigate those who conspire to engage in unlawful terrorist activities,” said U.S. Attorney Olson. “The thorough and exhaustive work of our JTTF, in partnership with our investigating and prosecuting partners in Utah, Colorado, and at the National Security Division, put a stop to this criminal activity and ensured the public’s safety. (my emphasis)

Did the secret FISA searches used in Muhtorov's case lead to Kurbanov? We may never know. Here is the court's order denying disclosure and suppression of the FISA material in the Muhtorov case.

On April 30, 2013, DOJ submitted this letter to Senator Harry Reid as its report on the number of FISA applications in 2012. There were 1,856 applications to the FISA court for electronic and physical searches. Of them, 1,789 were for electronic surveillance. All but one (which the Government withdrew) were granted. There were also 212 requests to the FISA court for business records. None were denied. More than 15,000 requests for National Security Letters were submitted, seeking information on more than 6,000 U.S. persons. This number does not include requests for telephone subscriber information (for which no reporting requirement exists.)

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    Interneting While Muslim? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Catfitz56 on Sat May 18, 2013 at 03:14:48 PM EST
    I don't see that Kurbanov's case is related to Muhtorov, but possibly they knew each other, as the community of Uzbek emigres given asylum since the Andijan massacre, a number of whom drive trucks from state to state for a living, is fairly small and tight.

    Why do you think Muhtorov's case is taking so long to bring to trial?

    Here are some translations of Kurbanov's Youtube feed:

    http://3dblogger.typepad.com/different_stans/2013/05/youtube-feed-of-uzbek-suspect-fazliddin-kurbano v-hate-for-russians-americans-love-for-jihad-explosiv.html

    At what point do you think it's appropriate to be concerned about someone who is endlessly watching and saving Youtube videos about jihad, the IMU, the Free Masons, and how to blow up a car with C4 and make ammonia nitrate, and which take the Taliban's news and 9/11 truthers for real? Never?

    Do you believe this case to be a sting operation?

    catfitz56 (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Sat May 18, 2013 at 04:28:35 PM EST
    I have been reading your blog for a few weeks, since I noticed the Government cited a few of your posts in its pleadings in the Muhtorov case. (the defense in a responsive pleading wondered why.) I've also been reading your posts on Boston.

    Yes, it sounds to me like Kurbanov was a sting operation but there isn't really enough information to know for sure right now. This line in the FBI's press release stands out to me:

    Kurbanov's activities were closely monitored by federal agents during the investigation and any potential threat posed by Kurbanov has been contained.

    I don't think the Muhtarov case is taking more time than other similar cases to be resolved. There is the need to translate a huge amount of  documents, Russian translation services are quite limited here, and a lot of the information is classified and obtained under FISA, which is causing discovery litigation. Also, due to sequester cuts, the public defender's office which is representing Muhtorov, just got permission to add a CJA lawyer to the case.

    The lawyers for both defendants are excellent, and they are challenging everything, as they should.

    Also, in the future, can you please post links in your comments in html format (Use the link button at the top of the comment box) or at least tiny url? Long urls skew the site and I have to delete the entire comment, since I can't edit them.  Thanks.


    Trial by Internet? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Catfitz56 on Tue May 21, 2013 at 10:49:54 PM EST
    I haven't seen the government cite my blog in its pleadings in court; what I've seen is a prosecutor alluding to information I had in my blog to the press. If you have a link to the relevant court documents, please provide it.

    But regardless of the form or place in which this citation occurred, there is nothing wrong with it and I stand by it. The items referenced aren't merely opinion pieces, they are translations of relevant documents that provide a fuller picture of Muhtorov. They are in open sources and should be part of the discussion.

    I have two relevant posts on this here and here.

    Most importantly, these and other posts cite the fact that Muhtorov was expelled from a local branch of a human rights groups for two reasons, refusal to provide financial reports and liaison with an extremist group that wanted to overthrow the Karimov government, which would only get the more moderate peaceful group in trouble. These are hugely relevant points to make so that a distinction is made between the general human rights movement in Uzbekistan, which does not use violence, and an individual like Muhtorov.

    When Sarah Kendzior attempted to describe Muhtorov as a human rights activist to the Denver Post, she was pursuing her own agenda, heedless of what it means to tar the entire very vulnerable human rights defender community in Uzbekistan with the brush of suspicion of terrorism.

    These may seem like fine points but they aren't to people who have to go to jail in a country where guilt by association is the norm and there is no independent legal defense. At least Muhtorov is getting that here.

    The other relevant documents concerned a statement by a Kyrgyz government refugee official that Muhtorov appeared to be an opportunist, someone using the refugee process and third-country processing program simply to get out of the country. She also noted that he appeared to be cooperating with the police, as did other emigres which raised concerns. These are all relevant news accounts and documents to cite, and the prosecutors could be citing them without me, but as you say, Russian translation can be hard to organize, and so I provided translation from the Russian with my commentary.

    The defense can wonder why all it likes -- that's their job. But I fail to see what prohibits the prosecutor from mentioning news articles, and I refuse to be slammed as somehow "helping prosecute an innocent man," which is the nonsense that Joshua Foust at Registan has claimed falsely about me. The challenge to both the defense and the prosecution is to determine Muhtorov's bona fides. He does not appear to be a human rights activist, despite his personal family problems with a possible unjust jailing of is sister. And from the indictment, it seems clear that the FBI had proper grounds to arrest him.

    What are your grounds for finding this a "sting" operation? Unlike other cases where the FBI urges an individual to buy weapons or bombs, which raise "sting" concerns, in this case, Muhtorov was arrested at the airport with cell phones, a GPS and money on his way to Turkey. What your issue seems to be is the bugging of his telephone conversations, which indicated that he spoke "in code" and that he was doing things like telling his little daughter he would see her in heaven.

    Since translation can be crucial to getting this right, I think it's important to hear/see a transcript of what he said in his native language, especially because in Russian, the word for "heaven" and "sky" are the same. For example, did Muhtorov say to his daughter, "I'll see you from heaven" or did he say "I'll see you from the sky," i.e. what you would tell a child as you were making a flight.

    Many blogs automatically turn Internet links into hypertext. It's strange that you can't reach in and simply edit it yourself if one slips through. In any event the links here are put in place using the comment tools.


    I'll email you the (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Mon May 27, 2013 at 04:32:14 PM EST
    pleadings. Both sides linked to you. They are available on PACER which is where I got them.