Miami Muslim Cleric Hate
Florida imam convicted in Pakistani Taliban case
By CURT ANDERSON | Associated Press – Mon, Mar 4, 2013
MIAMI (AP) — An elderly Muslim cleric was convicted Monday of funneling thousands of dollars to support the Pakistani Taliban terror organization, which is blamed for suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed both Americans and Pakistanis.
The jury returned its verdict after the two-month trial of Hafiz Khan, the 77-year-old imam at a downtown Miami mosque. Khan was found guilty of all four charges: two conspiracy counts and two counts of providing material support to terrorists.
"Despite being an imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace," said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, whose office prosecuted the case. "Instead, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming."
Each charge carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. U.S. District Judge Robert Scola set sentencing for May 30.
Prosecutors built their case largely around hundreds of FBI recordings of conversations in which Khan expressed support for Taliban attacks and discussed sending about $50,000 to Pakistan. There were also recordings in which Khan appeared to back the overthrow of Pakistan's government in favor of strict Islamic law, praised the killing of American military personnel and lauded the failed 2010 attempt to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square.
"He said these things. He admitted these things. He did all of these things," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley said during closing arguments.
Khan, who testified over four combative days in his own defense, insisted the money he sent overseas was for family, charity and business reasons — above all, his religious school, known as a madrassa, in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Khan also said he repeatedly lied about harboring extremist views to obtain $1 million from a man who turned out to be an FBI informant wearing a wire to record their talk.
"That is not supporting terrorism," said Khan attorney Khurrum Wahid in a closing argument. "That is an old guy running a scam, who got scammed."
Prosecutors, however, said the purported $1 million offer was never heard on any tapes and no other witnesses testified about its existence. The informant, identified in court papers as Mahmood Siddiqui, did not testify.
"That is an absurd story," Shipley said. "This whole defense is a lie."
One of Khan's sons, Irfan, said after the verdict that his father was mentally unable to express himself clearly on the witness stand.
"I wish he didn't have dementia so he could explain himself better," said Irfan Khan, a Miami taxi driver. "You're asking him questions about five or six years ago. That really affects things."
Jurors declined to comment to reporters outside the courthouse. Their verdict was reached at the start of the fifth day of deliberations.
Wahid said he will appeal, adding that it is difficult to defend against a very broad U.S. terrorism support law.
"It makes me very concerned about whether we still have a First Amendment in this country," Wahid said. "Can we say what we feel or do we now have to be concerned that our words can be criminalized?"
The case began with six defendants indicted in May 2011 but ended with only Khan on trial. Two of Khan's sons, Izhar and Irfan, were cleared of all charges and three more defendants have remained free in Pakistan, which does not extradite its citizens to face U.S. criminal charges.
One of those in Pakistan, Ali Rehman, testified via video link that he was not a Taliban fighter as U.S. prosecutors claim. Rehman said he owned a women's cosmetics store that the Taliban disliked because products showed photos of women. He said he handled more than $30,000 in financial transactions for Khan, mainly to invest in a potato chip factory run by Khan's son-in-law.
After Rehman's testimony, Pakistani authorities shut down the video link from an Islamabad hotel, leaving Khan without the testimony of 10 witnesses on his behalf.
Arrests of South Florida imams carried out under new federal rules
Authorities hope to defuse tensions and calm concern about hate crimes
By Curtis Morgan, The Miami Herald
May 16, 2011
The trilling chant of the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, rang out Sunday afternoon at the humble little white house behind a green fence that is South Florida's oldest mosque. Inside, a dozen men and one boy — shoes left outside as a cleansing gesture — quietly recited prayers and bowed to Mecca.
There was a single stark change in the ancient ritual this time — the longtime spiritual leader of Miami's Flagler Mosque was not there to lead it.
Dozens of federal agents appeared at the early morning prayer Saturday to arrest Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan, the frail 76-year-old imam, and two of his sons — including one who led the Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen Mosque in Margate — on charges of funneling money to the Pakistani Taliban to buy weapons and support militant training. Hafiz Khan and son Izhar Khan, 24, made their first appearance in federal court in Miami on Monday. Irfan Khan was scheduled to appear in federal court in Los Angeles late Monday afternoon.
A day after the raids, members of the mosque as well as South Florida's Muslim community remained concerned. Some fear ugly backlash. Nezar Hamze, executive director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations, said two hate calls had been directed at the Miami mosque and one at the Margate mosque. For other Muslims, he said, the case, built largely on bank records and taped phone calls, rekindled the sense they're being singled out for secret surveillance.
"The FBI has a very important job to do and we support it," said Hamze. "However, their job sometimes crosses the line and interferes with the rights of peaceful Muslim people."
But in at least small ways, the South Florida arrests also signaled a subtle positive shift in dealings between federal law enforcement agencies and the Muslim-American community it has monitored closely since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The raids were conducted under new national rules of engagement intended to show more sensitivity toward religious practices and tamp down the flames of haters after a series of outreach meetings in South Florida this year among federal law enforcers and Muslim leaders.
When U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer and John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI's Miami Office, announced the arrests, they stressed that other mosque members and the rest of the community should not be branded by the alleged terrorist actions of a handful of its members. Ferrer, in a phone interview Sunday with The Herald, reiterated that message.
"They are as American as apple pie," he said. "They are just as concerned about terrorist attacks as anyone else. They do not want to live in fear."
Ferrer said the outreach programs were initiated last year by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to address concerns over increasing tensions and hate crimes — including a pipe bomb explosion last year at a Jacksonville mosque — and law enforcement tactics that some Muslim leaders have criticized as heavy-handed, including planting undercover agents in mosques.
Along with the outreach meetings, the U.S. Attorney's Office earlier this month hosted a training session at Broward College in Davie for 65 federal, state and local agents and officers aimed at "at enhancing law enforcement officers' cultural competence and sensitivity on issues involving the Arab, Muslim and Sikh American communities."
Ferrer said his message to Muslim leaders is that they should not feel isolated. "We want to make it very clear that we are their U.S. attorney, we are their Justice Department."
Asad Ba-Yunus, a former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney who now serves as legal adviser for the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organization, said the charges against the two imams and four others came as a "shock" but he praised the handling of the arrests.
After the heavily armed agents flooded the grounds of the Flagler Mosque, a small converted house in a modest neighborhood west of Milam Dairy Road and north of Flagler Drive, they waited for morning prayer to finish before arresting Khan outside.
"Instead of barging in with 25 agents and trampling all over the place, one agent took off his shoes and went in," he said. ""They respected the congregation that was there."
After the arrest, agents informed other Muslim leaders before going public, Ba-Yunus said, so there was some lead time to prepare for media inquiries. Ba-Yunus saw those steps as progress stemming from meetings with federal authorities.
Still, despite the kinder, gentler arrests, Muslim leaders say many in the community remain wary of federal authorities, their suspicions fueled by cases like one last year in Irvine, Cal., where a confidential informant's mission backfired. Mosque members, alarmed about his calls for violence, tried to turn him in to authorities.
Ba-Yanus said most Muslims presume their mosques have been infiltrated and, at a meeting with the FBI, he argued that building trust with honest community leaders would provide more reliable information. For many Muslims, Hamze said, simply voicing a political opinion against U.S. occupation of a country or a trip to the Mideast can trigger a visit from federal agents — a practice he said put up barriers to better cooperation.
As for allegations against Hafiz Kahn and others, Ba-Yanus and Hamze condemned any support of terrorism but said they wanted to see the evidence before passing judgment. In reading quotes from phone calls in the indictment, Hamze wondered if conversations had been misconstrued and "something had been lost in the translation."
Khan's 19-year-old grandson, Alam Zeb, accused of collecting and distributing money sent from the U.S. to the Pakistani Taliban, on Sunday denied the charges against him and his family.
"It is baseless," Zeb told The Associated Press in Sarsnai, a village in Pakistan's Swat Valley where the elder Khan used to live and established a madrassa, or Islamic school.
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