AURORA, Colo. — The FBI arrested a refugee from Uzbekistan at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on charges that he planned to travel overseas to fight for a terrorist group and give up his life if necessary, an official said Monday.
However, there was no evidence that suspect Jamshid Muhtorov was plotting attacks inside the United States, authorities said.
Muhtorov, 35, of Aurora, Colo., was arrested Saturday by members of the FBI’s Denver and Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
Muhtorov, who goes by several other names, was indicted on charges of providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors allege he planned to fight for the Islamic Jihad Union, which has been blamed for suicide attacks in Uzbekistan and claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
An FBI affidavit said the group also carried out simultaneous suicide bombings of the U.S. and Israeli embassies and a prosecutor’s office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Muhtorov was arrested without incident before he could board a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department in Washington.
The FBI said Muhtorov communicated with a contact with the terror organization by email using code words, asking to be invited to the “wedding.” He also told the contact that he was “ready for any task, even with the risk of dying,” the FBI said.
In April, Muhtorov emailed the contact that an associate had sent money for a “wedding gift” and expressed willingness to help with the wedding, the FBI affidavit said. In a May email, Muhtorov said he planned to travel to Istanbul and would bring a “wedding gift,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit said the FBI intercepted phone calls last summer between Muhtorov and his wife in which they argued about travel plans to Kyrgyzstan or Turkey.
In a July phone call, Muhtorov told a young daughter he would never see her again, but “if she was a good Muslim girl, he will see her in heaven,” the FBI said.
Neighbors said Muhtorov worked as a truck driver and lived with three children and a woman. They often cooked on a barbecue grill, and two of the children – a girl about 6 years old and a boy about 4 – sometimes played outside.
Cody Bank said a white, unmarked 18-wheeler truck was often parked outside the building. He said he saw Muhtorov and his family out barbecuing once a week, but he didn’t talk to him.
Susan Benjamin, who lives nearby, said she sometimes saw a man and the two young children who lived in the apartment going for rides around the neighborhood in the cab of the truck.
Kevin Inman, whose apartment is in the same building as Muhtorov’s, said people he assumed were in law enforcement were in and out of Muhtorov’s apartment much of the day on Saturday.
If convicted, Muhtorov could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and up to a $250,000 fine.
It wasn’t the first terrorism case with ties to the Denver suburb of Aurora.
Najibullah Zazi, a Denver airport shuttle driver who pleaded guilty to planning to bomb the New York City subway, also was from Aurora.
Zazi, an Afghan immigrant, bought beauty supplies in Aurora to make peroxide-based bombs. He tried to mix explosives in a hotel room in the city then drove to New York to carry out an attack just before the 2009 anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
After becoming suspicious that he was being watched by law enforcement, he abandoned the plan and returned to Colorado.
Prosecutors allege Zazi and two associates went to Afghanistan in 2008 to join the Taliban and fight U.S. soldiers. They instead were recruited by al-Qaida operatives, who gave them weapons training in their Pakistan camp and asked them to become suicide bombers, authorities say.
Zazi’s father, Mohammed Zazi, also of Aurora, was convicted in July of destroying evidence and lying to investigators to cover up his son’s plot.