McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 5, 2013

Miami imam convicted of Taliban-related terror charges


MCT

MIAMI — A Miami imam was found guilty Monday on four terror-related charges.

For two months, federal prosecutors portrayed Miami imam Hafiz Khan in the worst possible light: terrorist sympathizer, Taliban supporter and pathological liar.

"His whole defense is a lie," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley told 12 jurors last week during closing arguments.

The 77-year-old Khan, with his hunched shoulders and flowing white beard, testified that he sent about $50,000 to Pakistan to help a religious school, the poor and his extended family overseas _ not to arm Taliban militants bent on killing Americans and Pakistanis.

"This is America, folks," his attorney, Khurrum Wahid, said during closings. "You don't have to accept what the government tells you."

On Tuesday, jurors began deliberating the fate of Khan, the former Muslim cleric at the Flagler Mosque in Miami. Khan, who was arrested along other family members in May 2011, has stood trial on four counts of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and to a foreign terrorist organization, as well as providing actual support in both conspiracies.

The jury verdict was announced on Monday morning.

Each count _ built upon evidence of FBI-recorded phone conversations, a wired informant and bank transactions between 2008 and 2010 _ carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The prosecution's case has had its share of setbacks. U.S. District Judge Robert Scola found the evidence against Khan appeared "overwhelming" when he rejected the defendant's bid for an acquittal at the end of trial. But the judge also had ruled midway through the trial that the government's case against Khan's son, Izhar Khan, a Broward County imam, lacked evidence and threw it out.

Moreover, last summer prosecutors dropped the charges against another of Khan's sons, Irfan, a Miami cab driver, without explanation.

Both brothers, along with another sibling, Ikram Khan, also a cab driver, attended the closing arguments Tuesday with other supporters from the elderly imam's mosque.

The case ultimately came down to whether jurors believed Hafiz Khan, who was often evasive, unresponsive and rambling on the witness stand during four days of testimony last week.

Khan testified that he lied about his ostensible support for the Pakistani Taliban because he wanted to obtain $1 million from a purported Taliban sympathizer _ who was actually an FBI informant _ to help innocent victims of war in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border.

Khan, who was unaware his conversations were being recorded, said he wished Americans would die in pursuit of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and that terrorists would destroy the Pakistan government. He was also recorded praising the 2010 Taliban-linked Times Square bombing attempt in New York City.

But on the witness stand, Khan testified his recorded statements were "all lies," meant to curry favor with the FBI informant, known as Mahmood Siddiqui, who was paid $126,000 by the federal government for his undercover work in South Florida and Pakistan. Siddiqui had promised Khan the money to help poor victims of the war between the Taliban and Pakistan.

"There are many times I am agreeing with him, but that does not mean that I mean it," Khan testified.

However, Shipley pointed out that Khan made similar comments to friends and relatives in other telephone conversations that also were intercepted by the FBI.