Imam charged with supporting Taliban

2011-05-15 10:31

Miami - A Miami imam and two of his sons were arrested on Saturday on federal charges they provided some $50 000 to the Pakistani Taliban, designated by the State Department as a terrorist organisation, officials said.

Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, was arrested after morning services at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque, where he is an imam. One of his sons, Izhar Khan, 24, an imam at the Jamaat Al-Mu'mineen Mosque in nearby Margate, Florida, was arrested after morning services there.

Another son, Irfan Khan, 37, was detained at his hotel room in Los Angeles around the same time. The men are US citizens. Their mosques are not suspected of wrongdoing, officials said.

Also named in the indictment are three others at large in Pakistan - Hafiz Khan's daughter, grandson and an unrelated man, all three of whom are charged with handling the distribution of funds.

The indictment lists about $50 000 in transactions. The funds were used to buy guns, support militants' families and promote the cause of the Pakistani Taliban, according to the indictment. It also alleges that Hafiz Khan owns a madrassa, or religious school, in his native Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan that shelters members of the Pakistani Taliban and trains children to become militants.

'We support this country'

Attempts to reach the men's attorneys and families were unsuccessful on Saturday. However, another son of Hafiz Khan, Ikram Khan, told The Miami Herald that his father was too old and sick to be involved in the plot.

"None of my family supports the Taliban," he told the newspaper. "We support this country."

US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the investigation was sparked three years ago by suspicious financial activity and was not based on an undercover sting operation.

"This is based on the defendant's words, actions and records," Ferrer said at a news conference on Saturday.

The indictment recounts recorded conversations in which Hafiz Khan allegedly voices support for attacks on the Pakistani government and American troops in the region.

Strained relations

The Pakistani Taliban is a wing of the terrorist group that originated in Afghanistan. It claimed responsibility for a pair of suicide bombings on Friday that killed 87 people in what it said was vengeance for the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. The group has also been linked to the Times Square car bombing in New York in May 2010.

The Pakistani militant group is allied with al-Qaeda, is based in the northwest of Pakistan near the Afghan border and has links to that country's Taliban insurgency.

Meanwhile, relations between the US and Pakistan have been strained since the raid that led to Bin Laden's killing.

If convicted, the South Florida men face 15 years in prison for each of the four counts listed in the indictment. All three are expected to appear in court Monday.

The Miami Mosque - a small, white house in a crowded residential area - was founded in 1974 and is the oldest mosque in the city, according to Mohammad Shakir, a leader in the local Muslim community. Hafiz Khan has been leading prayers at the mosque for about 14 years, Shakir said.

'Quiet individuals'

Hafiz Khan has been suspended indefinitely as imam, said Asad Ba-Yunus, a spokesperson for the Muslim Communities Association of South Florida, which runs the mosque. He said his organisation is not aware of any attempts to raise funds for illegal activity that took place on its properties.

Nezar Hamze, executive director of the South Florida chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group, described the father and son imams as "very quiet individuals" who seemed to be pious. He said he never heard them preach extremism.

"I was very shocked, just as others in the community were shocked," Hamze said. "We absolutely don't support terrorism or support of terrorism."

Muslim leaders said they were reluctant to speculate about whether the alleged financial support to the Pakistani Taliban did in fact take place and whether it was intentional. "I think it's important to get all the facts before any decisions or statements are made," Hamze said.

Across the street from the Miami mosque, neighbour Odelia Fernandez said she found the elderly bearded man to be respectful. Even though language barriers prevented them from communicating, they would wave hello to one another.

'Hard to believe'

Khan's next-door neighbour, Jorge Gonzalez, said he frequently saw Khan walking to the mosque.

"It's hard to believe," Gonzalez said. "The Taliban sleeping alongside my room - wow."

US Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement late on Saturday that the indictments show the US must be vigilant in dealing with extremist threats.

"This is yet another indication that the threat posed to the US and other free nations by violent Islamist extremists did not end with the killing of Bin Laden; that the war against enemies of freedom continues," the Florida Republican said. "It also highlights the need for the US to receive more cooperation from Pakistan to counter this threat."

This is not the first terror case to come out of the area. In June 2006, a group that became known as the "Liberty City Seven" was arrested in the Miami neighbourhood of that name. They were charged in a plot to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower. The plot never got past the discussion stage, prompting some defence attorneys and terrorism experts to describe the case as overblown. Five were convicted, while two were acquitted.

  • - 2011-05-15 11:27

    Typical of muslims - run away from the misery and backwardness of their own muslims countries and come to the western free world to enjoy the freedoms and pleasures denied to them in their own countries. Only to plot against the very country that offered them freedom and equal rights! SOBs!

      Paco7 - 2011-05-16 08:36

      u sound like a typical white pig that does not have anuthing better to say,why don't u jump off a cliff or something

      slg - 2011-05-19 16:50

      Paco, you're being as prejudiced when you think "white pig". It's the same.

  • esther - 2011-05-15 14:26

    this is just another example at how much media can do and what it can ruin...nobody looks at the possibility that the man could even be innocent... you can't have that of course..... but seriously they should still adhere to the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty (beyond a doubt!) you know if the man is really taliban linked? do you knwo the person in question? probably not then how can you make a statement about Muslims based on something like this..... seriously though think before you speak this populist crap!!! there are individuals who adhere to Muslim believe that are SOB's yes but that does not mean that all Muslims are like that... - 2011-05-15 15:13

      Esther - i rather believe a government of the free world based on historical trends - these men have been accused of something based on evidence which is highly likely to be correct. Esther - maybe not all of them are dangerous and violent (although some do it in private and secret in the musjids) but truth is most of the worlds problems and instability is caused by this backward cult - for gods sake the Taliban didnt allow female kids and adults to be educated pre 2001 before the invasion! Is this the type of world u want for yourself and kids? If they muslims win and impose the backward thinking on the rest of the world u can be guaranteed it will be worst than the holocaust - non muslims will be killed in millions in they succeed.

      slg - 2011-05-19 16:52

      Esther, the media is reporting. It is not taking the actions described. The organization taking the actions has thoroughly investigated these Imams and come to the conclusion they are a real risk to society.

  • Sooth Slayer - 2011-05-15 19:43

    Goony, either you are an idiot, or you just think and talk like one. Firstly not every migrant is running away from another country. In fact this arrested gentleman and his family are infact American citizens. no where does it say they "ran away" from some muslim country - unless you have info that we don't. Secondly, violence is not unique to the religion called islam. The fact that Obama is a Christian and is commander in chief of any army that's involved in more than five wars worldwide at the moment does not imply all christians and warmongers. Also when you say "the truth is most of the world's problems and instability is caused by this backward cult" which problems are you referring to? are u perhaps referring to slavery. colonialism, the credit cruch, civil wars in many African countries - i have never heard that any guns used in African civil wars were made by muslim countries. Lastly, Esther tried to show you sense, but you refused to see it. i doubt i'll be more successful. but at least i tried!

      slg - 2011-05-19 16:58

      The Taliban and Al-Quaida are backward in the extreme, and they will take You and all of us there given half a chance. Muslim traders were major players in slavery and Muslim colonialism happened too. Muslims are not apart of human history. They are a part of it. Civil wars took place in Africa long before colonialism. Muslim countries, like all countries, use guns like any other. Your points don't have substance, really.

  • coolwaynie - 2011-05-15 20:28

    Just livin' the American dream haji...

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