BOISE -- A Boise man on trial for terrorism testified today that he was just trying to illicit a response when he wrote to members of a Taliban-linked group that he wanted to carry out a "martyrdom act" in America.
Fazliddin Kurbanov said he had reached out to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan through their official website twice with no response, so he tried a different tack.
"We are the closest ones to the infidels," he wrote July 31, 2012. "We have almost everything. What would you say if with the help of God we implement a martyrdom act?"
The message ultimately worked: An administrator for the IMU's website furqon.com contacted Kurbanov on Skype and struck up a conversation. But the defendant testified Friday that he had been lying about his purported interest in attacking the United States.
"I wanted to contact with them, so I wanted to use the words like I was interested in jihad like them," he said. "If I weren't using these things, if I wasn't show my intentions and pretend to be interested in these things, I don't think anyone would be talking to me."
Despite writing that he wanted to take the pledge of loyalty to the IMU and was even considering relocating his family, Kurbanov said he had no such intention.
"I really wasn't serious. I wasn't going to emigrate anywhere," he told the jury through a translator.
Kurbanov said his real designs with the IMU were two-fold: He wanted to find out whether a childhood friend who had disappeared as a teenager had left home to join the group, and he wanted to know the IMU's next move.
"I wanted to find out if they are going to come back to Uzbekistan, or are they going to stay there?" Kurbanov said.
The IMU is currently headquartered in Waziristan, the tribal area of Pakistan. The group was run out of Uzbekistan in the early 1990's for opposing the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
Kurbanov also testified the stockpile of explosive materials in his apartment was not intended to construct a bomb. He said he bought the supplies after a friend got him interested in Tannerite and homemade fireworks.
Dima Gannotskiy, Kurbanov's coworker at Alley Heating and Cooling, made small explosives out of CO2 canisters filled with gunpowder taken out of rounds of ammunition, Kurbanov testified. Twice, Gannotskiy detonated the devices as Kurbanov filmed on his phone, later making a short clip he titled "My Bomb Movie."
Kurbanov said he and Gannotskiy planned to go on vacation together, perhaps up near Silver City, and detonate Tannerite there. Tannerite is a legal substance that explodes when mixed together and shot with a high-velocity bullet.
Kurbanov, who did not own a gun, said he bought four packages of Tannerite online but never used them. He said he planned to give them to Gannotskiy so the other man could shoot them while they were on vacation together.
Because the substance was expensive, Kurbanov said, he and Gannotskiy began to look up how to make it at home. He bought the ingredients to make Tannerite and other explosives, but never detonated any, he testified.
"To tell the truth, I don't know how it works," he said. "I only did it because of Gannotskiy."
Peterson also asked Kurbanov about the hollow grenade federal agents found in his apartment.
The defendant said he planned to make it into a display item to commemorate the year he spent as military police in the Uzbekistan Army.
"After Army, I had no souvenirs left," he said. "When I fled the country, I left everything there."
He painted the grenade black and said he planned to paint 2003 - 2004 on the side before mounting it on a wooden plaque for display.
An FBI explosives expert testified earlier this week that Kurbanov could have made the device functional - even lethal - by filling it with smokeless powder taken from the ammunition in his house, plugging the open end, and adding fuse. But Kurbanov insisted Friday that the top of the grenade, the spot where the pin would be, wasn't even attached.
"It was wobbly - it wasn't closed, it wasn't real," he said.
Kurbanov came to the attention of the FBI after he went to Denver looking for work and met a man named Jamshid Muhtorov, an Uzbek who allowed Kurbanov to stay with him after his housing arrangement fell through. Muhtorov was already under FBI surveillance, and was arrested on terrorism charges the month after Kurbanov returned home to Boise.
An FBI agent contacted Kurbanov, asking him to come to her office to talk about how he knew Muhtorov.
But Kurbanov was afraid, he said. His family had fled persecution for their Christian faith in Uzbekistan before coming to Boise as refugees, but he had converted back to Islam shortly after meeting Muhtorov.
"I stopped going to church, I started practicing Islam and I was afraid they, the government, might misunderstand me because I came here as a Christian and two-and-a-half years later I switch my religion," he said. I was afraid they would send me back. If they were to send me back I would be dead."
It was in searching for news about Muhtorov's arrest that Kurbanov discovered the IMU website furqon.com, watching and downloading the group's propaganda videos for months before reaching out to them by email.
"Was it your intention to commit a martyrdom act in the United States when you wrote this?" defense attorney Charles Peterson asked.
"Never," Kurbanov replied.
But prosecutors say the suspect was very serious about his desire to carry out a terrorist attack on the United States. According to a confidential FBI source Kurbanov met in Salt Lake City, Kurbanov named a Boise park and US military bases as his preferred targets.
The trial continues next week.