MIAMI: U.S. prosecutors are laying out their case in court against two South Florida imams accused of funneling more than $50,000 to support the Pakistani Taliban, playing wiretapped phone calls and showing bank records to bolster their accusations against the Pakistan-born men.
Hafiz Khan, the head of one of Miami’s oldest mosques, and his son, Izhar Khan, were arrested in May 2011 on charges they conspired to provide money and support for the Pakistani Taliban, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.
The Khans, both U.S. citizens, were named in a four-count indictment and have pleaded not guilty. If convicted the two face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each count.
The trial, which began last week, is expected to last nearly three months. It is one of two high-profile but unrelated terrorism-related cases prosecutors have brought in South Florida.
In the other, a Pakistani-born man and his brother are facing charges in a Fort Lauderdale federal court of providing support to terrorists and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in an alleged plot to detonate a bomb in New York City.
U.S. officials have said the Khans were arrested after a three-year investigation based on recorded phone conversations and a trail of money moving from U.S. bank accounts to Pakistan.
Defense attorneys argue the money was intended for family members and to help finance a school the elder Khan, who is 77, set up in his hometown in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan.
Prosecutors this week presented evidence that included taped phone conversations they said showed Hafiz Khan soliciting donations from a South Florida doctor to support the Taliban.
In one of the calls, he also discussed how much money he had raised to send to Pakistan and repeatedly asked about the health of a nephew who he described as “a big agent of the Taliban.”
“Right now I have about 100,000 Pakistani rupees for the Taliban,” Khan said in the 2010 phone call. “People have given me (money) in small amounts, I have given some from my side.”
Prosecutors also showed jurors records of $500 Western Union transfers that Khan sent to Pakistan and presented bank statements showing his grandson, Alam Zeb, withdrew $10,000 from a Pakistani bank account that belonged to Khan.
U.S. officials allege Khan’s family in Pakistan, including his daughter and grandson, were conduits to receive money destined for the Taliban, including funds to buy arms.
Three of his relatives in Pakistan were also included in an initial indictment announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.
Charges against another of Khan’s sons, who was arrested in Los Angeles, were dropped last year because of insufficient evidence.
Prosecutors contend the school Khan established was a madrassa, or Muslim school, which they say was used to house militants. The Pakistan army closed the school in 2009.
The judge in the case has agreed to allow defense lawyers to travel to Pakistan next month to interview witnesses, including Khan’s relatives, with prosecutors participating via video conference.
The Pakistani Taliban was formed in 2007 by a group of Islamic militants. The U.S. State Department declared the group a foreign terrorist organization in 2010.
The Pakistani Taliban has been connected to a December 2009 suicide attack on a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven people. In 2011, the group claimed responsibility for suicide attacks that killed more than 80 people in northwest Pakistan.