DENVER – A federal judge in Denver on Friday ordered the release of a refugee from Uzbekistan first jailed in 2012 on suspicions he was providing support to an Islamic jihadist group overseas, and who has yet to face a trial on the charges.
Jamshid Muhtorov will remain in U.S. Marshals custody until U.S. District Court of Colorado Judge John Kane determines at a Monday afternoon hearing what his conditions and terms of release will be.
And even once he is released, he still faces a trial on charges he provided material support to the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), a group based in Pakistan that says it aims to make Uzbekistan, a southwest Asia nation, a sharia state.
The trial is currently set for July 31, but could be delayed, as his co-conspirator in the case, a Philadelphia man named Bakhtiyor Jameav, won’t see a trial until next January. The two have been expected to testify in one another’s defense, as Jameav is accused of sending money to Muhtorov.
Muhtorov arrested in Chicago en route to Turkey in January 2012
FBI agents arrested Muhtorov at a Chicago airport in January 2012 as he was readying to board an airplane to Turkey to allegedly try and join the IJU. He had nearly $3,000 on him, as well as two new iPhones, an iPad and GPS.
Jameav had allegedly sent him some of the money, and federal agents had been monitoring some of their conversations via warrantless wiretaps—something that this case exposed for the first time.
After his arrest, Muhtorov pleaded not guilty to the federal charge. His lawyer said at the time he had signed onto the IJU’s website to talk with its operators about what was happening in his home country, and that he was headed back to Uzbekistan via Istanbul.
But prosecutors at the time claimed Muhtorov swore allegiance to IJU, saying he was “ready for any task, even with the risk of dying.”
He was originally from Jizzak, Uzbekistan, but was relocated by the U.S. and U.N. to Aurora as a refugee in 2007.
He had opposed his home country's dictator following a 2005 massacre, endured a brutal detention, and saw his sister arrested on a false murder charge.
He fled his country by night dressed as a woman.
Recent court developments lead to judge's order
Muhtorov on Thursday filed a writ of habeus corpus, also in federal court in Colorado, claiming his Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial have been violated.
Kane had denied previous motions by Muhtorov requesting he be granted bail—something he was denied after his original arrest because he allegedly was a flight risk and posed a threat to the community because of his alleged involvement with the terrorist-linked group.
But he wrote in Friday’s order that “there have been certain substantive events and evidentiary changes that must be noted.”
Among those, Judge Kane wrote, were “several lengthy evidentiary hearings that have marshalled many of the facts on which the government will rely to establish Mr. Muhtorov’s guilt.”
“There is reason to believe, after previewing the government’s evidence and the strength of his defenses, that Mr. Muhtorov has been invested with a sense of direction and a reason to stay and see the trial of his case through,” he added, outlining the basis of his conclusion that Muhtorov should be granted bond.
He also wrote that there was “information that exists today” that the court did not know at past bond hearings “that will reasonably assure his appearance and the safety of the community,” despite voicing some concerns about witness intimidation.
Some of that evidence, Judge Kane wrote, involves the fact that Muhtorov's wife still lives in the Denver metro area, visits him often, and that the two have had another child.
“Their familial relationship has deepened,” the judge wrote.
Judge Kane also said that the “most significant” new information he’s seen is “substantial evidence…suggesting Mr. Muhtorov’s bark was more serious than his bite.”
That evidence, the judge wrote, shows that his oath to the IJU “was made but not accepted,” that he’d left for Turkey “with no invitation from or other plan or contact from anyone associated with the IJU” and that many of Muhtorov and Jameav’s conversations involved “prattle and other topics other than terrorism or plans to support it.”
But despite that new evidence, Judge Kane also wrote that the government’s case wasn’t without merit:
“That is not to say that the government’s charges are without merit or that the words and conduct of Jamshid Muhtorov are not serious or without consequence. To the contrary. The government, by its actions in surveilling and apprehending Mr. Muhtorov, may have thwarted an actual plan to provide smartphones and services to the IJU.
"The content of Mr. Muhtorov’s conversations with Mr. Jumaev are abhorrent, the videos and pictures on his phone revolting. His professed desire to join a movement that justifies the murder and maiming of all who dare to think differently than he does on matters of faith and religion deeply offend our values of religious liberty, the sanctity of life, tolerance, justice, and the rule of law. Nor is there any doubt that the men and women of our security services and intelligence communities act and have acted with the utmost rigor and good faith. Mr. Muhtorov, however, has already spent more than five years in detention before even being found guilty of acting, in any way, on his alleged terrorist beliefs.”
Should Muhtorov be convicted of the charge against him, he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine—something Judge Kane took into account in his order when he wrote that “[s]ix years of detention awaiting trial on these charges approaches the range of sentences imposed in other cases.”
He set Monday’s hearing to determine Muhtorov’s conditions and terms of release, and new trial date, “so that the specific combination of conditions can be aired and determined with comment from all sides,” he wrote.
The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the U.S. District Court of Colorado.
A U.S. Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on the case, citing a judge's gag order.