Federal agents suspect Mr. Muhtorov was on his way to volunteer for a mission or missions to help the Islamic Jihad Union, an Uzbekistan-based militant group seeking to establish a government based on Islamic law.
Court documents filed in the case read at times more like a slapstick comedy than a deadly serious terror operation. The suspect and an alleged overseas terror contact overuse the word “wedding” as a code word, and at one point jointly curse the FBI agents who they believe – correctly – are monitoring their every utterance.
At one point, Muhtorov’s wife threatens to take their children from Denver and go live with her mother – in Kygyzstan.
When he tells her she must choose between her mother or him, she accuses him of choosing the alleged mission in Turkey over his wife and children.
Ultimately, the seriousness of the case is crystal clear. Last summer, according to an FBI affidavit, Muhtorov “told his young daughter that he would never see her again; but, if she was a good Muslim girl, he will see her in heaven.”
The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) has claimed responsibility for suicide-type bombings, including simultaneous attacks in July 2004 on the US and Israeli embassies and the Uzbekistani Prosecutor General’s Office in Tashkent.
The IJU is believed to have trained with and provided support to Al Qaeda. It has been listed since 2005 as a US-designated terror group.
According to court documents, federal agents have been watching Muhtorov for the past year after he contacted the administrator of a pro-IJU website.
They have also been monitoring his e-mail contacts with someone code named “Abu Muhammad,” who officials suspect is an IJU facilitator.
In March 2011, three days after an e-mail exchange between Muhtorov and Abu Muhammad, Muhtorov received a telephone call from someone identified in court documents only as “a known associate.”
Muhtorov told the associate that the “wedding house” sends greetings. He read the associate a suspected message from the IJU, referring to the group as “our guys over there.”
The point of the message apparently was that the IJU needed help.
During the conversation, according to court documents, the associate warned Muhtorov about discussing sensitive issues on the telephone.
“The associate warned Muhtorov about surveillance. Both Muhtorov and the associate then cursed whoever might be listening in on their conversations and called upon Allah to punish those who do,” according to the FBI affidavit.
Two weeks later, Muhtorov swore an oath of allegiance to the IJU in an e-mail with Abu Muhammad. He said he was “ready for any task, even with the risk of dying,” according to court documents.
In early April, Muhtorov told Abu Muhammed that an associate had sent him money for a “wedding gift.” He asked to be invited to “the wedding,” expressing a willingness to help with event, and that he would like to coordinate plans with the “master of ceremonies” for “the wedding.”
Abu Muhammad responded two days later, explaining that the “master of ceremonies” was busy and unable to talk to Muhtorov.
A month later, Muhtorov told Abu Muhammad in an e-mail that he was disappointed that he had not been “invited to the wedding.” Nonetheless, Muhtorov said, he still planned to travel to Istanbul, and that he would bring a “wedding gift.”
The FBI affidavit notes: “Based upon training and experience, your affiant knows that the term ‘wedding’ is used as code for a terrorist event or attack.”
All was not well in Muhtorov’s home life. His wife was apparently aware of his plan to travel to Istanbul.
In July, Muhtorov and his wife, Nargiza, bickered on the telephone. She informed him that she had purchased airline tickets for her and the children to fly to Kygyzstan to stay with her mother.
He asks her to purchase an additional ticket for him to Istanbul. Two days later, when she tells him there are no additional seats on that same plane, Muhtorov presents her with an ultimatum: “Choose – me or your mother.”
His wife retorts: “How about you? Didn’t you want to leave us for Turkey?”
Muhtorov was forced to make his own travel plans. According to the FBI he went to CheapTickets.com.
Muhtorov purchased a ticket on Polish Airlines from Chicago to Istanbul via Warsaw. He was set to leave Saturday night. Federal agents were waiting for him.
A federal grand jury in Denver has returned a one-count indictment charging Muhtorov with attempting to provide support to a foreign terrorist group. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
It remains unclear in court documents what Muhtorov planned to do in Istanbul and how he would allegedly help the IJU.
Agents have seized his computer and BlackBerry cell phone for forensic analysis to try to obtain additional evidence.