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Federal Trial Begins For Miami Muslim Cleric Charged In Terror Plot

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An elderly Muslim cleric and his son were in federal court Friday for opening statements in charges they funneled tens of thousands of dollars from South Florida to the Pakistani Taliban terrorist organization to carry out violent attacks against U.S. interests overseas.

A jury of 12 people was selected Thursday after they filled out four-page questionnaires in the case of Hafiz Khan, 77, and his 26-year old son, Izhar Khan, CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald reports. The elder Khan was imam at a Miami mosque, and his son held the same post at a mosque in Margate.

Both have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and material support to terrorism, asserting they were sending financial support to relatives and friends in Pakistan who have struggled for survival — not to terrorists. Each count carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

Charges were dismissed last year against another son, Irfan Khan, because of a lack of evidence.

The Pakistani Taliban is linked to al-Qaida and has played roles in several attacks against the U.S., including a December 2009 suicide bombing at a military base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven U.S. citizens, prosecutors said. The group also was connected to the attempt in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square.

Central to the prosecution’s case against the Khans are more than 1,000 phone calls and other communications intercepted by the FBI from 2008 to 2010. Based in large part on those calls, prosecutors say the Khans wired at least $50,000 to help finance the Pakistani Taliban.

In addition, prosecutors say Hafiz Khan founded a religious school, known as a madrassa, in Pakistan’s Swat Valley that was used by the Taliban to train and indoctrinate children in fighting Americans. The madrassa was shut down in 2009 by the Pakistani army.

Court documents also show that the calls contain anti-American rhetoric and strong support for the Taliban, mainly on the part of the older Khan.

In July 2009, for example, the FBI said Khan “cursed the leaders and army of Pakistan, and called for the death of Pakistan’s president and for blood to be shed in violent revolution.”

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.)

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