The family of three Pakistan-born American citizens, who were arrested by the US on Saturday, have denied having ever financed militancy.
The three, arrested in Florida and Los Angeles, belonged to Sirsinai-Galoch area of Swat Valley’s Kabal sub-district. They are among six people charged in a US indictment that accuses them of “supporting acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming in Pakistan and elsewhere” carried out by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
One of those arrested, Hafiz Mohammad Sher Ali Khan, is the imam of a Florida mosque and had migrated to America 18 years ago where he eventually acquired the American citizenship. In Swat, his madrassa is situated at the square connecting Sirisini and Kabal.
According to Khan’s family, the money he sent from the US was used for this madrassa, not to finance militancy.
“Yes, he [Khan] sent money but that was only to pay the imam of the madrassa and to cover utility bills of the mosque and madrassa,” said Khan’s grandson Alam Zeb, who is among the accused. “He sent the money through his friend Ali Rahman, a shopkeeper in Mingora, to my uncle Inayatullah who lives in Kala Kaley, a nearby village,” he said, adding they had also bought some property using that money.
Khan’s daughter Amina Bibi, who is also one of the accused, said that her salary as a schoolteacher wasn’t even enough to cover her travel expenses to the school. “I was paid just Rs6,000 and the school was located in a far-flung area where no public transport was available. Everyone in the village knows that we bought property with the money that my father sent.”
However, according to Saifullah Khan, leader of the Nepkikhel Aman Jirga, Amina Bibi had helped finance the Taliban. “At the beginning of Talibanisation, Amina resigned from her job. She calculated the entire salary that she had been paid by the government and gave it to the Taliban as she considered it Haram (illegal). She even donated her jewellery,” Saifullah said.
Dawood Shah, Khan’s granddaughter’s fiancé, is also said to have actively assisted the Taliban by sending them money from his in-laws. Shah is presently in the custody of security forces. But locals said they had no information on the family’s whereabouts.
“Maybe they have gone to the US or are hiding here in Pakistan,” Saifullah said, adding that Khan and his family regularly visited Swat but had not been seen for a while.
But their names are well-known in the area. “When I heard their names in the news, I recalled them. They had left here 18 years ago. I am not sure if they financed the Taliban in Swat but we never saw any doubtful activity in this madrassa,” Yousuf Khan, a resident of Galoch, said.
The madrassa, where Nazira Quran is taught to nearly 70 children of the area, is registered with the Social Welfare Department of Swat that has started functioning again. The current imam of the madrassa, Rahmat Bacha, is a local resident who has been living in Mingora for 12 years.
“The madrassa remained closed for three years but last year, I was appointed according to the wishes of the security forces,” Bacha said. “I teach only basic Quranic lessons and some other verses.”
Walid Akbar, 12, a student of the madrassa, said, “I study in grade six and come here after school to learn Nazira Quran, Salat and some other verses and nothing else.”
When contacted, local police also appeared not to know about these people. They said that no arrests had been
made nor had they initiated any legal proceedings against the family.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2011.