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 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.
Imam Takes Stand, Denies Taliban Terrorist Connection
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.
"That is an absurd story," Shipley said. "This whole defense is a lie."
No Bail for Muslim Cleric in Miami Terror Case
One of Khan's sons, Irfan, said after the verdict that his father was mentally unable to express himself clearly on the witness stand.
"I wish he didn't have dementia so he could explain himself better," said Irfan Khan, a Miami taxi driver. "You're asking him questions about five or six years ago. That really affects things."
Jurors declined to comment to reporters outside the courthouse. Their verdict was reached at the start of the fifth day of deliberations.
"The problem is the statute is a conspiracy statute, so if one simply has the intent and the jury believed he had the intent to do something based on what they said, that is enough," Wahid said.
Wahid added: "Not one dollar did he designate to the Taliban."
Wahid said he will appeal, adding that it is difficult to defend against a very broad U.S. terrorism support law.
"It makes me very concerned about whether we still have a First Amendment in this country," Wahid said. "Can we say what we feel or do we now have to be concerned that our words can be criminalized?"
Miami Imam Trained Kids to Be Terrorists: FBI
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, leaving Khan without the testimony of 10 witnesses on his behalf.