A native of Uzbekistan who emigrated to the United States through a refugee program set out to become a martyr, federal prosecutors allege. A jury trial starting this week will determine his guilt or innocence.
Fazliddin Kurbanov, 32, came to the U.S. in 2009 and settled in Boise three years ago. Authorities say he bought bomb-making chemicals and components to create weapons of mass destruction, such as bombs, grenades and mines.
They also say he sought to support an Islamic terrorist organization in his home country. Before his May 2013 arrest, Kurbanov allegedly corresponded for almost a year with a man prosecutors say administered a website for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the U.S. has classified as a terrorist organization since 2000. The movement’s aim is to overthrow the government of the former Soviet republic and create an Islamic state.
In that correspondence, Kurbanov indicated his willingness to become a martyr and described the ease in which bomb materials, weapons and ammunition could be obtained in the U.S., prosecutors said. He sought instructions on how to connect wires to the bombs and how to operate remote-controlled destructive devices.
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Kurbanov did not indicate how many people might join in the attacks, though he told his correspondent that each person should take on eight to 10 targets each, prosecutors said. “We don’t have many people, but it would be great, God willing,” Kurbanov wrote.
Kurbanov denies the allegations.
“Mr. Kurbanov never agreed or attempted to provide material support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or to terrorists as alleged (by providing personnel, money or software); nor did he possess an unregistered destructive device,” defense attorney Chuck Peterson wrote in a brief.
During a hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge said 92 potential jurors were called for service — one of the largest jury pools he has organized during his 26 years on the federal bench.
Twenty-seven people were dismissed based on their answers to a questionnaire they filled out last week. Lodge agreed with prosecutors and defense attorneys that those jurors would not have been fair and impartial if added to the panel.
And 41 more potential jurors were placed on the “sidelines” by Lodge after defense attorneys argued that those could not be fair and impartial. The judge said he would consider using them only if the 12-member jury could not be filled with the remaining 92 people in the pool.
The nature of the question and answers that concerned the defense and Lodge was not revealed in court. Defense attorneys said previously in a court filing that they planned to question jurors on their feelings about Islam and whether they believe it encourages violence among adherents.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Lucoff objected to sidelining the group of 41, saying lawyers should be allowed to explore further to determine whether they could set aside their beliefs to provide Kurbanov with a fair trial. “That isn’t fair, in the government’s belief, to move them to the back of the list without an opportunity for them to explain their beliefs,” Lucoff said.
Lodge dismissed the objection. “Neither side is entitled to a particular juror,” he said. “They are only entitled to a fair and impartial jury.”
Kurbanov appeared in court Friday, as he has in recent months, clean-shaven and with short hair, wearing a button-up blue shirt and slacks.
His police mugshot from 2013 shows him with a long beard, common among Muslims. The Statesman has been unable to obtain a current photo because the U.S. Marshals Service does not provide photos of federal defendants and federal courts do not allow cameras.
Shortly before his arrest, Kurbanov established a company in Idaho, Fazzliddin Kurbanov Inc., that prosecutors say he planned to use to provide money to the Islamic group in Uzbekistan. The first name in the company has one more Z than Kurbanov’s first name in court records.
He created the company as the purported Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan website administrator urged Kurbanov to provide money to the group. The administrator also asked Kurbanov to send computer antivirus software, prosecutors said.
The defense questions whether the government can prove whether whoever communicated with Kurbanov was one person or several, and whether that person or people in fact administered the IMU website.
“This is the Nigerian prince problem — he frequently sends counsel emails looking for a means to help him collect $50 million that he claims is owed him, and is willing to pay a contingent fee,” Peterson wrote, referring to a common email scam. “That he says he is a Nigerian prince does not make it so. Such claims may not be authentic. The same is true of the claimed administrators of the website at issue here.”
Prosecutors said that during an interview with FBI agents after his arrest, Kurbanov admitted to studying how to make bombs; purchasing most, if not all, of the chemicals and components seized at his apartment on South Curtis Road; and uploading terrorist videos to his YouTube account. They said he also admitted that he communicated with the IMU.
Lodge will allow prosecutors to shield the identities of two government witnesses who are also involved in other national security cases.
One of the informants attended a truck driving school in Salt Lake City at the FBI’s request. Kurbanov was attending the same school. The informant posed as a man sympathetic to what the government characterizes as Kurbanov’s extremist views. The two men spoke daily for 11 days, discussing explosives and holy war. Kurbanov shared details about attacks he was planning, according to court filings.
The second witness briefly lived with Kurbanov in Denver in winter 2012. Kurbanov discussed similar topics with him, the government said.
Lodge plans to clear the courtroom when the two men testify and send onlookers to a different courtroom, where they will be able to listen to the testimony but not see the men. The witnesses also will be allowed to use fake names.
The government intends to introduce evidence from emails, video chats, and posts to Facebook and YouTube. Many of those exchanges were translated into English from Kurbanov’s native Uzbek language and Russian. At trial, Kurbanov is being provided a translator.
Charges against Kurbanov include conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists and possession of an unregistered destructive devices. The trial is expected to last about six weeks.