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Questions surround man with Utah, Idaho connections accused of conspiring with terrorists

SALT LAKE CITY — The intentions of an Uzbekistan national accused of conspiring with an Islamic extremist group and how he came to be in Utah and Idaho remained unclear as he made his first court appearance Friday.

Fazliddin Kurbanov, 30, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Boise to three terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

Federal authorities say Kurbanov supplied resources to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the U.S. government identifies as a foreign terrorist group that aims to overthrow the Uzbek regime and establish an Islamic state. Money, software and training were among those resources, according to the indictment.

Kurbarov also had the parts to make a bomb, including a hollow hand grenade, hobby fuse, aluminum powder, potassium nitrate and sulfur, the indictment says.

"For the U.S. attorney to mention IMU, that's sending off all kinds of bells and whistles inside the Beltway in terms of intelligence agencies to figure out who this guy is, what he knew and why him and why in Utah and Idaho," said homeland security expert Tom Panuzio.

Federal prosecutors did not reveal any new information in court Friday.

A public defender was appointed to represent Kurbanov, who worked as a truck driver until his arrest Thursday. He was being held in the Ada County Jail. A detention hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Boise.

The Idaho U.S. Attorney's Office is seeking to keep him behind bars pending trial, arguing he is a danger to the community and a flight risk. Trial is scheduled for July 2.

A one-count indictment filed in Salt Lake City alleges that for 10 days in January, Kurbanov taught and demonstrated how to make explosive devices and distributed information relating to the manufacture and use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Utah connections

In Utah, he allegedly showed Internet videos, led shopping trips, provided written recipes and gave instructions on where to obtain components to build and use improvised explosive devices, according to the indictment.

The FBI would not comment on where Kurbanov lived or stayed in Utah or how much time he spent in the state.

Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said the case isn't connected to the bombings in Boston last month.

But Panuzio said what Kurbanov was allegedly doing had the potential to be much worse. While Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appear to be "self-radicalized," authorities said they have tied Kurbanov to a well-established, well-funded terrorist group, he said.

"In many ways it is more troublesome, at least initially, than the Boston bombings. Obviously a bomb didn't go off," he said. "But if these accusations are true, to have an individual that is supporting and providing money and resources to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. That is extremely troubling."

This appears to be a much more coordinated effort with a group capable of building high-grade explosives, Panuzio said.

Although the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan started in the 1990s with the stated goal of overthrowing the Uzbek regime and establishing an Islamic government, it has broadened its 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-Qaida has been building ties with the IMU.

Last year, an Uzbek named Ulugbek Kodirov was sentenced to a minimum 15 years in prison in Alabama for plotting to shoot President Barack Obama while on the campaign trial. Kodirov pleaded guilty, saying he was acting at the behest of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Court documents say Kurbanov was conspiring with others but no other arrests were made. Olson said the investigation, which authorities say goes back several months, is ongoing.

Unanswered questions

Panuzio said he wouldn't go so far as to say they are hiding out in the Intermountain West, but their presence raises lots of questions.

"Why are they here? Who are they talking to? What is the nature surrounding the teaching of building of destructive weapons? Was that social media? Are they running an operation that teaches individuals overseas? Or were those individuals taught here to exercise options in the United States?" he said.

Kurbanov's parents apparently fled Uzbekistan to escape religious persecution after converting to Christianity.

His father spent time in jail and faced death after he gave up his Muslim faith to become a Christian, according to a neighbor who knows the family.

"He left Uzbekistan to come to the United States because of religious purposes, and it was kind of a hurry-up deal," Les Mattson told KTVB, the NBC affiliate in Boise. "They threatened him with his life if he didn't recant to go back to becoming a Muslim."

The family left the country as refugees, apparently with help from the United Nations, and settled in Boise about two years ago, he said.

Kurbanov lived with his parents, sister, wife and son in a Boise apartment complex in an area known for refugee housing. Mattson said he knows all of them but never met Kurbanov.

"I think they're really great people, impressive people," he said. "Every time I've seen them, they appear to be really polite and comfortable to talk to."

Idaho has become somewhat of a hub for Uzbekistan refugees the past decade. They account for 12 percent of the state's 5,341 refugees arriving between 2001 and 2011, according to the Idaho Office for Refugees. Only Bhutan and Iraq sent more people during that time.

Olson said she has seen Internet comments blaming Idaho’s Muslim community, something she called inappropriate. She said her office enjoys "strong partnerships" with its members.

"I think it's important to stress that this case in no way reflects on the broader Muslim community, certainly in the Treasure Valley area," she said. "This is about a particular individual and specifically alleged conduct and not anything about ethnicity or religion."

According to Idaho's court records, Kurbanov has no criminal convictions but was ticketed for speeding violations twice in 2012 — once in October, when he paid a $90 fine, and another in May when he paid $85.

Contributing: Associated Press


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