Judge dismisses terror charges against Fla. Muslim cleric, citing weak evidence

MIAMI — Citing a lack of evidence, a federal judge on Thursday dismissed terrorism support and conspiracy charges against the younger of two Muslim clerics accused of funneling thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola ruled that “no rational trier of fact” could convict 26-year-old Izhar Khan, who is imam at a mosque in suburban Margate north of Fort Lauderdale. Trial is continuing against his father, 77-year-old Hafiz Khan. Scola said the evidence against the older Khan is much stronger.

“This court will not allow the sins of the father to be visited upon the son,” Scola wrote in a seven-page order.

Federal prosecutors earlier dropped charges against another of Hafiz Khan’s sons who also had minimal involvement. Izhar Khan’s attorney, Joseph Rosenbaum, said a judge’s dismissal of charges is rare, particularly in a case linked to international terrorism.

Hafiz Khan, imam at a downtown Miami mosque, still faces four terrorism support-related charges that each carry maximum 15-year prison sentences. Prosecutors said Hafiz Khan orchestrated the sending of at least $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban between 2008 and 2010, money that was allegedly used to help mujahedeen fighters attack Pakistani and U.S. targets.

In his order, Scola noted that the older Khan was recorded by the FBI talking “openly and brazenly” about raising money to help overthrow the Pakistani government so that strict Islamic law could be imposed. The recordings showed Hafiz Khan praised suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan and the attempt in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square.

Trial begins for Muslim cleric, son accused of funneling thousands to Pakistani Taliban

MIAMI — An elderly Muslim cleric and his son funneled thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban to fund killings, kidnappings and suicide bombings “in the name of a perverted form of the Muslim faith,” a prosecutor said Friday.

That was the characterization of Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley Jr. while making his opening statement in the trial of Hafiz Khan, 77, and his 26-year old son, Izhar Khan. The elder Khan was imam at a Miami mosque, and his son held the same post at a mosque in suburban Margate.

Both have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and material support to terrorism. Each count carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. The trial is expected to last about two months.

A starkly different picture was painted by Khurrum Wahid, the elder Khan’s defense attorney, and Joseph Rosenbaum, who is representing the son. They argued prosecutors are misinterpreting thousands of phone conversations, intercepts and the bugged conversations of an informant.

Wahid told the jury that the elderly cleric’s words are filled with expressions of love for his madrassa, the school he founded in Pakistan’s Swat Valley decades ago.

 

2 Muslim clerics accused of financial support for Pakistani Taliban again seek release on bail

MIAMI — Two Muslim clerics accused of providing financial support to the Pakistani Taliban terrorist group are again seeking release on bail.

A hearing was set Friday in Miami federal court for 76-year-old Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan and his son, 24-year-old Izhar Khan. Both are imams at South Florida mosques. They have been in solitary confinement since their May 14 arrests.

A magistrate judge in May ordered both men held without bail until trial. Their lawyers say prosecutors have scant evidence that they pose any threat or would flee to Pakistan rather than stand trial.
A second son charged in the case, Irfan Khan, will have a bail hearing July 15. Three other people, including a daughter and grandson of the elder Khan, are also charged but remain in Pakistan.

Prosecutors say indicted Fla. cleric was dedicated financier of violent Pakistani Taliban

MIAMI — Despite a frail and pious appearance, a South Florida Muslim cleric was a dedicated financier of the violent Pakistani Taliban who disliked the “wretched” U.S. and sought the overthrow of Pakistan’s government, a federal prosecutor said in court Monday.

Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, directed how thousands of dollars were to be distributed to militant fighters “down to the dollar” and maintained at least three bank accounts in Pakistan to accept the funds, said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley. More than $200,000 has been deposited in those accounts since 2005, he added, although not all the money is linked to terrorism.

Shipley laid out more details of the case against Khan, his sons Izhar Khan, 24, and 37-year-old Irfan Khan, and three other suspects at a bail hearing. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber ordered Hafiz Khan and Izhar Khan held without bail, agreeing with prosecutors that both present a danger to the community and are at risk of fleeing the country.

Attorneys for Hafiz and Izhar Khan argued that both deserved release on bail, contending that conversations recorded by the FBI could amount to little more than political ranting and that they sent the money to relatives in Pakistan as millions of other immigrants do every day.