The Mukhtarov Hearing

Post image for The Mukhtarov Hearing

by Joshua Foust on 2/15/2012 · 5 comments

Former Uzbek human rights activist and accused would-be-terrorist Jamshid Mukhtarov had a hearing yesterday over the decision to arrest him. And it’s kind of unsettling to read:

A prosecutor told a federal judge this morning that Uzbek refugee Jamshid Muhtorov admitted he knew the Islamic Jihad Union was a combat organization that fights NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan…

The FBI found about $2,800 in cash, two shrink-wrapped iPhones, an iPad and a GPS device with him upon his arrest…

[Assistant U.S. attorney Greg] Holloway also claims to have a witness who said Muhtorov was looking for like-minded individuals who had an extreme view of Islam.

The witness told the FBI that Muhtorov’s teachers in regard to the proper practice of Islam were Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yememi-American cleric killed last year in a CIA drone strike.
But when Muhtorov’s defense lawyer, Brian Leedy tried to question FBI Special Agent Donald Hale about the identity of their witness, Holloway interrupted and said Hale could not answer because the information is classified.

So we’re still at the stage of using secret evidence and thought/speech crimes to accuse Muhtorov of committing pre-terrorism. None of this means the case is necessarily invalid; it is, however, really difficult to take the prosecutor’s word at this stage that Mukhtarov really did anything wrong even if he did violate the very poorly worded material support laws.

In a comment two weeks ago, reader Xenophon highlighted some of the questionable decisions about identifying Muhtorov as a terrorist and then arresting him:

In Section 13, the document says Muhtorov emailed Muhammad on 5 Feb 11. Well, what did he say? Why is none of the substantive content included? This was presumably their first communication, which might be expected to be significant in the establishment of a new relationship. Wouldn’t that be important to include?

In Section 14, how do we know that the message of 8 Mar 11 was “from the IJU?” The investigator says that by “our guys over there,” Muhtorov means IJU. Why does the FBI believe that that means IJU? Why are only isolated words quoted instead of complete passages that actually convey what specifically was said in context?

Section 15 is the key part of the document, as it is here that Muhtorov supposedly commits himself fatefully to Bay’ah. But what exactly did Bay’ah consist of? The only quoted words are “ready for any task, even with the risk of dying.” That’s it. Even the subject and verb are not included inside the quotation marks. Frankly, I don’t trust this document. Since this is really the part of the set of tenuous allegations that would provide the probable cause, we should see a full quotation. Who knows exactly in what context the aforementioned fragmentary quotation was actually used? If “pledging allegiance” to IJU is the centerpiece of the allegation, then WHY did the FBI not provide a full quotation? …

In Section 21 On 8 Jul 11, Muhtorov’s wife Nargiza reminds him laughingly on the phone: “Didn’t you want to go to Turkey?” Now, if the Muhtorov’s trip to Turkey was part of some terror group operation, it seems strange that his wife–who would probably understand that SOMETHING was up–could laugh about it on the phone.In Section 22-24, on 20 July, Nargiza tells Muhtorov that she and the kids will fly to Bishkek via Istanbul five days later on the 25th. Muhtorov then causes her to jump through hoops by asking whether she can’t get another ticket so he can accompany them to Istanbul. So how does the FBI interpret the fact that off the top of his head, he decides he might want to fly to Istanbul in five days, and then, when a seat is unavailable, decides not to go? This gives no indication of planning to do anything very specific or previously coordinated in Istanbul.

This lack of context continues to the grand jury indictment (pdf), which barely covers a single piece of paper and says nothing of any consequence. He is literally accused of wanting to join a terrorist organization, and that’s about it.

This is awfully thin gruel for accusing a man of terrorism. From the public data the FBI have mustered so far, it’s really weak evidence for putting a man on trial (or even arresting him). Even according to the prosecution’s own documents, Muhtorov hadn’t communicated with the “IJU facilitator” for several months at the time of his arrest; there is a huge gap in the complaint document’s timeline between 4 Sep 11 and 3 Jan 12.

I’m sure the government has scads of secret things they’ll be bringing to trial — they usually do. But so far, the way this has played out, including the prosecution’s using classified witness evidence the defense couldn’t challenge — looks really bad. People will quibble with me for saying this but it looks like a thought crime, not an actual crime.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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AJK February 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Just to explain the cash/iphone thing: If one is going to be in a foreign country for a long time it helps to have money – ATMs can be fluky (even in Turkey) and very few banks have agreements w/ Turkish banks that don’t absolutely kill you.

And the iphones/GPS stuff? Every time I had a friend visiting from the US I would ask them to bring an iphone, ipad, or something else electronic and gleamy. They go for near twice their US price in Turkey (and I’m sure even more elsewhere). It’s just a good business decision or a great gift.

It’s basic travel tips for going to the kind of foreign country that doesn’t have pizza and cheeseburgers.

Will February 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm

He was going to meet with his mother in Turkey (according to her mother’s side of the story). Iphones, ipads (not sure about GPS) might have been gifts for his relatives and they sell well in Uzbekistan too. Looking at his picture, it looks his appearance has changed dramatically. It boggles me that some of the political refugees from Uzbekistan become radicalized or become pious after they settle in the Western countries. With his long beards, he would have been in jail already if he were in Uzbekistan.

Alima Bissenova February 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm

///With his long beards, he would have been in jail already if he were in Uzbekistan.///

well, would he or would he not already be in prison in Uzbekistan we don’t know…what we know is that he is already in prison in the US…

so, the long beard doesn’t seem to help in the US too

recently (about a month ago or so) CNN international reported a case of the FBI sending an Indian guy to spy inside mosques in the US (he wore recording devices and then delivered them to the FBI). For spying services, the FBI promised him speedy citizenship approval. Apparently, they didn’t give him what they promised and that is how the story came about…

I guess this situation (government spies in the mosque) should be familiar to the people from Uzbekistan

Sarah Kendzior February 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm

I am curious about the nicknames given in the FBI documents and in what context they were used. The indictment says Muhtorov went under Abu Mumin and Abu Mumin Turkistony, but these are not the aliases he primarily used online — and the main alias he used online, including in his Facebook interactions with the IJU, is not given anywhere in the FBI document. It’s possible he used Abu Mumin and Abu Mumin Turkistony in an offline context, but given that so much of this case relies on his online interaction with the IJU, you would think they would also appear someone on the internet.

I found no record of Abu Mumin Turkistony appearing anywhere online except in articles about the Muhtorov case, and the spelling is very strange for Uzbek. There is also no record of Muhtorov using Abu Mumin online, except for a Twitter account that connects to the email address that the FBI claims is his: If you go to this Twitter account, you will see three messages, posted right before the FBI filed the affidavit. Why would Muhtorov open a Twitter account right before he’s going to flee the country for allegedly terrorist purposes, and post these particular messages?

Don Doherty February 16, 2012 at 12:54 am

Well, at least the jihadis have the right haram devices.

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