MIAMI (CBS4)- The U. S. Attorney’s office in South Florida arrested a Miami imam and two of his sons Saturday on charges they provided some $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban, designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization, officials said.
Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, was arrested after morning services at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque, where he is an imam. One of his sons, Izhar Khan, 24, an imam at the Jamaat Al-Mu’mineen Mosque in nearby Margate was arrested after morning services there. He is a resident of North Lauderdale.
Another son, Irfan Khan, 37, was detained at his hotel room in Los Angeles around the same time. He is a Miami resident. The men are U.S. citizens. Their mosques are not suspected of wrongdoing, officials said.
Three other individuals residing in Pakistan, Ali Rehman, aka “Faisal Ali Rehman;” Alam Zeb; and Amina Khan, aka “Amina Bibi,” also are charged in the indictment. Amina Khan is the daughter of Khan and her son, Alam Zeb, is Khan’s grandson, according to a release from the U. S. Attorney’s office.
The defendants are charged with conspiring to provide, and providing material support to a conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap persons overseas, as well as conspiring to provide material support to the Pakistani Taliban. The indictment also alleges that Hafiz Khan owns a madrassa (religious school) in his native Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan which was used for terrorist purposes.
“These funds were to be used in part to buy guns for the Taliban,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “The use of the madrazza in Pakistan to shelter members of the Taliban and to send children to learn how to kill Americans in Afganistan.”
Khan, Rehman and Zeb are also charged with providing material support to the Pakistani Taliban.
FBI agents arrested Hafiz Khan and his son Izhar Khan Saturday in South Florida. They are expected to make their initial appearance in federal court in Miami at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
“As for the Imam Hafiz Khan, he has been indefinitely suspended as the Imam of the Flagler mosque. To our knowledge the activities in the indictment did not occur on the property of MCA Muslim Communities Association nor was any such activities ever sanctioned by our organization,” said Asad Bayumus with the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations.
“CARE strongly condemns all acts of terrorism and the support of it,” said Nezar Hamze with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In addition, Irfan Khan was arrested in Los Angeles and is expected to make his initial appearance there. If convicted, each faces a potential 15 years in prison for each count of the indictment. The remaining defendants are at large in Pakistan, according to the press release.
The indictment does not charge the mosques themselves with any wrongdoing and the individual defendants are charged based on their provision of material support to terrorism, not on their religious beliefs or teachings.
“Despite being an Imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace,’’ said Ferrer. “Instead, as today’s charges show, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming.”
Investigators became suspicious over several financial transactions. According to the indictment, the defendants endorsed violence perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban. Investigators listened in on telephone calls and conducted other actions that they did not specify.
Ferrer noted that the investigation was sparked three years ago by suspicious financial activity and was not based on an undercover sting operation.
“This is based on the defendant’s words, actions and records,” Ferrer said at a news conference Saturday.
The indictment recounts recorded conversations in which Hafiz Khan allegedly voices support for attacks on the Pakistani government and American troops in the region.
Reaction To Arrests & Homegrown Terrorism
Attempts to reach the men’s families, attorneys and mosques were unsuccessful Saturday. However, another son of Hafiz Khan, Ikram Khan, told CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald that his father was too old and sick to be involved in the plot.
“None of my family supports the Taliban,” he told the newspaper. “We support this country.”
Alfred Morales lives across the hall from Irfan Khan. he said Khan’s family kept to themselves.
“I would see the wife and kids, never see him,” Morales said.
Others in neighborhood were surprised to hear of the arrests.
“We would never think not next door to you, so it’s s kind of frightening but at the same time its good that they’re doing something,” said Adam Hagen.
Nehemia Ruiz said “I’m glad they were caught it could have been a lot worse had something happened tg affect our neighborhood.”
Congressman Allen West released the following statement Saturday:
“The news that three South Florida residents, including an Imam from Margate, are among six people charged with providing support to the Taliban in Pakistan, is further proof that there are individuals among us aiding and abetting terrorists who want to destroy our way of life. The United States clearly continues to be a prime target. These men were living among South Floridians, worshiping at mosques in our own back yard, and using United States banks to wire money back to terrorist groups,” he said in his statement.
West also commended law enforcement officials and said homegrown terrorism is serious and needs to be recognized.
“With the removal of Osama bin Laden, our enemies will only grow more brazen and more committed, not just overseas, but right on our own shores,” West said. “ I call on President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice, and all law enforcement to continue to recognize the seriousness of homegrown terrorism.”
West pointed out that “these terrorists are recruiting American citizens, infiltrating our schools and our military, and using our own resources against us.”
The Muslim Communities Association of South Florida and the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations in Pembroke Pines also issued a statement condemning acts of terrorism.
“We as an institution, condemn and reject any act or attempt to support, directly, or indirectly extremism, violence or terrorism in all of its forms, by any person,” the organization said. “At the same time, we believe in and support the Constitution of the United States and the presumption of innocence, and remind all to reserve judgment until the legal process has worked itself to conclusion.”
The coalition also stated that they have been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Miami FBI office and “appreciate the efforts of law enforcement to root out potential sources and supporters of terrorism. We stand together with the U.S. Attorney, Wifredo Ferrer, and the men and women of the FBI, and have been and will be cooperating with law enforcement to our fullest ability.”
The organization said that the actions alleged in the indictment are the “alleged acts of a few individuals from one family, and do not reflect or represent the Muslim community or the respective organizations.”
According to the organization, “Islam as a faith does not promote, advocate, or condone terrorism, and we join the U.S. Attorney in reminding our fellow citizens that this is not an indictment of a particular community or religion.”
The Pakistani Taliban is a wing of the terrorist group that began in Afghanistan. It claimed responsibility for a pair of suicide bombings that killed more than 80 people on Friday in what it said was vengeance for the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. The group has also been linked to the Times Square car bombing in New York in May 2010.
If convicted, the South Florida men face 15 years in prison for each of the four counts listed in the indictment. All three are expected to appear in court Monday.
“Today terrorists have lost another funding source to use against innocent people and U.S. interests. We will not allow this country to be used as a base for funding and recruiting terrorists,” said John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Office. “I remind everyone that the Muslim and Arab-American members of our community should never be judged by the illegal activities of a few.”
South Florida’s Past Terror Link
It’s not the first terror case to come out of the area. In June 2006, a group that became known as the “Liberty City Seven” was arrested in the Miami neighborhood by that name.
They had been accused in a plot to destroy Chicago’s Sears Tower. Five men were convicted, while two were acquitted. The plot never got past the discussion stage, which led defense attorneys and national terrorism experts to describe the case as overblown.