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Fla. imam convicted in Pakistani Taliban case

Mar. 4, 2013 - 11:13AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 4, 2013 - 11:13AM  |  
In a 2011 artist rendering, Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, right, and one of his sons, 24-year-old Izhar Khan, left, are shown in federal court in Miami. Hafiz Khan was found guilty March 4.
In a 2011 artist rendering, Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, right, and one of his sons, 24-year-old Izhar Khan, left, are shown in federal court in Miami. Hafiz Khan was found guilty March 4. (Shirley Henderson / AP file)
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MIAMI — 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 on its fifth day of deliberations after the two-month trial of Hafiz Khan, the 77-year-old imam at a downtown Miami mosque. Khan was found guilty of two conspiracy counts and two counts of providing material support to terrorists.

Each charge carries a potential 15-year prison sentence.

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 is 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."

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 to the Miami courtroom, leaving Khan without the testimony of 10 witnesses on his behalf.

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