Florida Imam Convicted in Pakistani Taliban Case

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-long 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.

Jurors declined to comment to reporters outside the courthouse. Their verdict was reached at the start of the fifth day of deliberations.