DENVER — A refugee from Uzbekistan convicted of conspiring to support a terrorist group and making plans to join the organization himself in 2012 was given an 11-year prison sentence Thursday but will receive credit for the more than six years he has been jailed in Colorado.
A jury in June found Jamshid Muhtorov guilty of three charges: Conspiring to provide $300 to the Islamic Jihad Union, providing or attempting to provide the $300 and providing or attempting to provide himself as support. The organization is an extremist splinter group that opposes the government of Uzbekistan and has been blamed for attacks there and in Afghanistan.
Judge John Kane in his sentence wrote that Muhtorov's "offenses are serious and his rhetoric is frightening" but did not include committing or planning violent acts in the United States.
Muhtorov's offenses did not warrant the 30-year sentence required by prosecutors but demanded punishment beyond the six years and seven months he has been jailed since federal authorities arrested him at a Chicago airport, Kane said.
"Muhtorov attempted to travel to join and to provide financial support to a terrorist organization," Kane wrote. "Regardless of whether his contribution aided orphans or whether he was limited to engaging in propaganda and recruiting, he would have furthered the illicit causes of a violent organization."
The lengthy case involved the first U.S. Justice Department disclosure that it intended to use information obtained through one of the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program. Muhtorov's attorneys unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the program before the trial.
Muhtorov and his family arrived in Denver in 2007 through a refugee resettlement program. The family fled their home country of Uzbekistan, where Muhtorov had been beaten twice for his human rights work.
Prosecutors argued that he soon became frustrated and angry about life in the U.S. and emailed with the terror group, used codes to discuss the group with a co-defendant and intended to join them when he booked a one-way ticket to Turkey in 2012. Muhtorov's defense attorneys, though, said he never intended to take any action — either sending money or joining the group himself.
Prosecutors asked Kane to sentence the 42-year-old to 30 years in prison because he acted as a conduit between the group and other people, actively helping the organization.
Prosecutor Gregory Holloway suggested that a lighter sentence would fail to deter others from communicating with terror groups, including those that try to persuade people already living in the U.S. to plan and carry out attacks on Americans.
Muhtorov's history of human rights work in Uzbekistan demonstrated he has skills that he could have used in the U.S. but instead he became "enticed by the violence" of the group's propaganda videos, Holloway said.
"Here's a man who by his own account had the courage to stand up to a totalitarian regime," Holloway said. "And yet, when he got to a place where he had freedom, his outlet wasn't to continue supporting those causes."
Defense attorney Warren Williamson said the $300 prosecutors allege was intended to support the terror group went directly into a bank account and Muhtorov's wife spent it all on household items. He said Muhtorov booked the plane ticket intending to help his brother apply for refugee status, not to join the group himself.
He did communicate with the group and bragged about that to friends but never took action to support the organization, said Williamson, who asked that Kane not order further prison time for Muhtorov.
"The nature of these offenses ... is not like those of other real terrorism cases: blowing things up, planning to blow things up," Williamson said. "There is no act of violence in this case, and certainly no evidence of an act of violence in the United States."
Once Muhtorov is released, he will be transferred to immigration authorities, who requested a hold based on the Colorado conviction.
Muhtorov fears he will be jailed or killed if he is deported to Uzbekistan and U.S. proceedings to address those issues could last years, his attorneys said.
Even if immigration authorities grant Muhtorov a reprieve, they could terminate that status at any time, Kane wrote.