A Central Asian man who came to the United States with his family as refugees in 2009 slowly turned against his adopted country after seeing events that offended his religious beliefs. Three years later, Fazlidden Kurbanov began planning a terrorist attack that could eclipse the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more, a federal prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
Defense attorney Chuck Peterson denied that there was a conspiracy to carry out a bombing of a military base or other targets, or that Kurbanov committed any crimes. Kurbanov, Peterson said, told big stories, but he was “all hat, no cattle.”
The assertions came during the first day of testimony during what is expected to be a six-week trial in federal court in Boise. Kurbanov, 32, is accused of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists and possession of unregistered destructive devices.
The testimony also shed new light on Kurbanov’s background.
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While still in Uzbekistan, Kurbanov’s parents and sister left Islam and converted to Christianity. They were persecuted, and a friend who was a government official told them they had been placed on a watch list because of their religious beliefs. So they fled. Kurbanov, still a Muslim, went with them and brought his wife and son.
Kurbanov eventually settled in Boise, where he rented an apartment on South Curtis Road.
He wrote in one of a series of emails and Internet chats that he was disgusted by the sight of Americans burning the Islam holy book, the Quran. Another time, he wrote that he turned against the U.S. after learning an American soldier had tried to rape a Muslim girl.
“My entire life, everything, changed,” Kurbanov wrote in a July 31, 2012, email that was introduced as evidence Tuesday.
The conversations were with officials of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the U.S. classified as a terrorist organization in 2000. The movement aims to overthrow Uzbekistan’s government and create an Islamic republic.
Kurbanov later allegedly bought chemicals and components that could be used to construct bombs. He bought fertilizer, an ingredient in the Oklahoma City bombs, and videotaped the detonation of a homemade explosive.
Meanwhile, he planned an attack that would kill and injure many people, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Lucoff told the jury of 10 women and six men.
“It’s going to be like Oklahoma City, right?” Kurbanov’s IMU contact asked, Lucoff said. “Yeah, yeah, maybe more,” Kurbanov replied.
Kurbanov attracted the attention of the FBI because of his postings on Facebook and YouTube, Lucoff said. He uploaded more than 100 terror videos from the IMU website to his YouTube account. In July 2012, he posted a profile photo of himself on Facebook that included the keywords “terror” and “terrorism,” as well as Uzbekistan, its capital, Tashkent, and the last name of the president, Islam Karimov. The keywords were meant to bring attention from other terrorists.
He was also targeted by the FBI, officials said, after being seen in Denver with another person later charged with similar crimes.
The FBI sent agents to keep tabs on him beginning in 2012. Kurbanov noticed.
“The FBI is calling me, watching me, following me,” he told a co-worker at the Boise heating and cooling company where he worked at the time, according to prosecutors.
But Peterson said Kurbanov never carried out any of the crimes he’s accused of: conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists and possession of an unregistered destructive devices.
While the government said Kurbanov frequently used the terms “we” and “us” in describing a small group of people who allegedly were committed to helping him stage attacks, no one else was ever charged in the case. With good reason, Peterson said.
“Even the FBI knows there wasn’t any ‘us,’ ” Peterson said.
One of the components Kurbanov bought was nothing more than a hollowed-out dummy hand grenade that he found on eBay, Peterson said. It could not be used to assemble a bomb, and nothing his client purchased was illegal to have or use, he said.
“There was no plot, except on paper,” Peterson said.