On July 27, as prosecutors made their case against Boise terrorist suspect Fazliddin Kurbanov in federal court, they played a secretly recorded conversation between Kurbanov and a confidential FBI informant that struck a nerve in the City of Trees.
In the recordings, prosecutors say, Kurbanov talked about a future attack on Boise. They say he was referring to possible targets when he mentioned the “police station or Capitol building” and “Central Park.” He seems to have been talking about Ann Morrison Park, specifically during July 4 celebrations.
“This is for a lot of people,” the Uzbekistan native said in English. “Because you know in Independent Day, sometimes the people goes to Central Park, just watching for fireworks. ... There’s a lot of military over there. And military takes his family. Because the military number one enemy of Muslim.”
“What city?” The informant asked.
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The conversation was recorded in January 2013, according to federal prosecutors. Of course, Kurbanov did not carry out an attack. Defense attorney Chuck Peterson told the court his client talked big but wasn’t serious.
“All hat, no cattle,” Peterson said.
Whether that’s true or not, the mention of a possible plot in Boise is a reminder that nowhere is off-limits to possible threats of terrorism.
“Overall, we’re not the highest-threat city in the country by any means, but we’re always concerned about what might happen at any event,” Boise Police Chief Bill Bones said.
Bones wouldn’t say whether the FBI or any other federal agency contacted his department with concerns about Kurbanov. Federal prosecutors and an FBI representative also declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
COMPLICATED NEW WORLD
Since 9/11, Bones said, police officers across the country have added terrorist threats to the list of situations they train for. They get good at recognizing when something’s wrong.
But how can Boise’s officers do that effectively in a place as big as Ann Morrison Park with thousands of people milling around, as there are on July 4? Fireworks watchers, partiers, floaters and chalk artists vastly outnumber Bones’ officers, even if all 300 of them were stationed in the park at the same time.
Bones said his department shares information about possible threats with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. He and Deputy Chief Eugene Smith have clearance to see secret information.
Another defense is the kind of police work Bones stresses every time he talks about the department’s philosophy: building relationships with the public.
“So 215,000 sets of eyes versus 300,” he said. “We depend heavily on the public to be our eyes and ears as to suspicious circumstances or incidents or packages.”
Officers don’t want to be too intrusive, Bones said. Otherwise, the events that help make Boise what it is wouldn’t be as much fun.
“It’s kind of like airports, you know? It’s a balance on how much we put people through,” he said. “We do the same thing on large events. We try to provide a balance between safety and people’s enjoyment of the event.”
Bones wouldn’t talk about specific tactics.
On the response side, the Boise Fire Department employs a special team that is ready for large-scale incidents. Its firefighters train for all kinds of emergencies, including fires, water rescues and hazardous materials. That training could come into play in any major event, spokeswoman Tammy Barry said.
MONITOR, PREVENT, RESPOND
Kurbanov’s taped conversation also mentioned military bases, a fact that caught the notice of Col. Tim Marsano, spokesman for the Idaho National Guard. If prosecutors are right about Kurbanov, he represents what’s still a fairly rare threat to America, including military bases like Gowen Field south of Boise, Marsano said.
“This is a new breed of terrorist — homegrown, self-radicalized,” Marsano said. “And it’s not something that there’s any pat answer for. It absolutely is a major concern for us in the Idaho National Guard as well as throughout the military.”
Kurbanov’s family members are Christians. They moved to Boise in 2009 to escape persecution in the overwhelmingly Islamic Uzbekistan. Kurbanov himself was a Christian, too, but converted to Islam after moving to the United States.
Prosecutors say he grew to hate America and began plotting attacks. Peterson says he was just talking.
The trouble is knowing when someone is a real threat, Marsano said.
“It’s impossible for anybody to say how many people have become radicalized or are in the process of becoming radicalized,” he said. “We take it extremely seriously and we do everything that we can to monitor, prevent and, when we need to, respond to events that affect us and the safety of our personnel.”
Marsano declined to identify specific steps the Guard takes to protect its people and Gowen Field.
WHAT ABOUT STREET PARTIES?
Besides July 4 celebrations, Boise hosts a variety of events that draw big, dense crowds to areas with loosely controlled entrances. Jaialdi, the every-five-years festival that wrapped up last weekend, is one example. The yearly Treefort Music Fest is another. The concert series Alive After Five brings hundreds to The Grove plaza every Wednesday in the summer.
But Bones considers those events less likely targets. They draw a lot of people, but lack the symbolism of a July 4 fireworks show that celebrates American patriotism, so they’re probably less attractive to terrorists, he said. Most Boise events fall in the same category, Bones said.