Idaho man charged in Uzbekistan terrorism plot
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — He was a Russian-speaking truck driver who came to Idaho nearly four years ago to join hundreds of other Uzbekistan refugees for whom the state has become a sanctuary from violence in their home country.
But federal officials say in an indictment that Fazliddin Kurbanov also was teaching people to build bombs that would target public transportation.
It’s unclear whether those alleged targets were domestic or abroad — or how far Kurbanov would have gone. Prosecutors said Friday only that they believe he no longer is a threat.
Kurbanov, 30, was arrested Thursday during a raid of his small apartment south of Boise’s downtown.
Prosecutors charged him with felonies in Idaho and Utah after an extensive investigation into his activities late last year and this year. They allege those activities included assisting a militant group in his native Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country with a southern border with Afghanistan.
“Given his arrest, we believe any potential threat he posed has been contained,” U.S Attorney Wendy Olson said. She noted the investigation is ongoing but declined to say whether federal agents are pursuing additional arrests.
Kurbanov said little Friday during his first court appearance, where he pleaded not guilty with help from an interpreter and a federally appointed defense attorney. Kurbanov wore a jail jumpsuit and had dark hair and a beard that was much shorter than the one pictured in his Idaho driver’s license.
Kurbanov lists Uzbek as his first language and Russian as his second in court documents. Federal officials said they will enlist the help of an interpreter again Tuesday when he appears for his detention hearing.
Until then, Kurbanov will be held in the Ada County Jail. His trial on the three counts filed in Idaho is scheduled for July 2.
His lawyer, Richard Rubin, declined to comment.
Kurbanov is among about 650 Uzbeks living in Idaho. He was admitted to the U.S. as a refugee in August 2009, the same month he moved to Boise, said Jan Reeves, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees, citing immigration records. Kurbanov was here legally, federal officials said.
Uzbeks began coming to Idaho’s two refugee settlement centers, in Boise and Twin Falls, in 2003, Reeves said. The centers connect refugees with services such as language classes and help finding work.
The flow of Uzbeks to the state escalated around 2005, when a violent clash between protesters and the government left hundreds dead.
Kurbanov told authorities he had a job driving trucks and listed his only assets as used cars and a small amount of cash in checking and savings accounts.
On Friday, the apartment where he is believed to live had a sign on the door saying “Please respect our privacy.” Nobody responded to a knock. Many immigrants from numerous countries live in the complex, a series of two-level buildings across from a public high school.
Olson said that since Kurbanov’s arrest, she has seen Internet comments blaming Muslims living in Idaho — something she called inappropriate.
“These charges shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on that community,” Olson said.
About 90 percent of Uzbeks in their home country are Muslim. Representatives of the Islamic Center of Boise, a meeting place for the region’s Muslim community, didn’t immediately return a phone call Friday.
The Idaho indictment charges Kurbanov with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and one count of conspiracy to give material support to terrorists and possession of an unregistered explosive device.
It alleges that between August and May, he knowingly conspired with others to provide resources, including computer software and money, to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the U.S. has identified as a terrorist organization. The group’s purpose is to overthrow the government of Uzbekistan, said David B. Barlow, U.S. attorney in Utah. The alleged co-conspirators were not named.
The indictment also alleges Kurbanov provided material support to terrorists, knowing it was to be used in preparation for a plot involving the use of a weapon of mass destruction.
On Nov. 15, Kurbanov possessed a series of parts intended to be converted into a bomb, including a hollow hand grenade and aluminum powder, according to the indictment.
A separate federal grand jury in Utah charged Kurbanov with distributing information about bombs. For 10 days in January, Kurbanov taught and demonstrated how to make an “explosive, destructive device and weapon of mass destruction,” the document states.
The Utah indictment, to be handled separately after the Idaho prosecution is resolved, alleges Kurbanov provided recipes for making improvised explosive devices and went on instructional shopping trips in Utah to help illustrate how to create them, Barlow said. Kurbanov also showed Internet videos on the topic, Barlow said.
Although the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan started in the 1990s with the stated aim of overthrowing the Uzbek regime and establishing an Islamic government, its goals have expanded to create a broader Islamic influence in Central Asia.
The movement’s fighters have a presence in Afghanistan’s northern provinces and in Pakistan’s Waziristan province. U.S. and Afghan officials say al-Qaeda has been building ties with the IMU.
Last year, an Uzbek named Ulugbek Kodirov was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison in Alabama for plotting to shoot President Barack Obama. Kodirov pleaded guilty, saying he was acting for the IMU.
Two other Uzbek nationals were arrested in 2012, one in Colorado and another in Pennsylvania, on what the FBI said were related terrorism charges.
According to Idaho’s courts, Kurbanov has no criminal convictions but was ticketed for speeding violations twice last year.
Associated Press writers Todd Dvorak in Boise, Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.