MIAMI (AP) — After a nearly two-month trial, a federal jury began deliberating Tuesday in the case of an elderly Muslim cleric accused of funneling tens of thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban terrorist group.
The 12-person federal court jury must decide whether 77-year-old Hafiz Khan, imam at a downtown Miami mosque, is guilty or innocent of conspiracy and providing material support to a foreign terrorist group. Prosecutors say Khan orchestrated sending of about $50,000 from 2008 through 2010 to the Taliban, which has attacked both U.S. and Pakistani interests.
Jurors deliberated for almost five hours Tuesday before quitting for the night. They will return Wednesday.
Hundreds of FBI recordings of conversations involving Khan, both on the telephone and in person with an FBI informant, leave little doubt about the imam's support for the Taliban and bank records clearly show the transactions, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley told jurors. For example, the recordings show Khan praising the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan, Taliban attacks on Pakistan's army and the failed 2010 bombing of New York's Times Square.
"This is an organization that tried to kill people in New York City. You cannot send money to these people, no matter what you think the justification may be," Shipley said. "You don't put a dime in the hands of terrorists."
Khan, who has been jailed since his May 2011 arrest, faces up to 15 years in prison on each of four counts. He testified in his own defense that the money he sent to Pakistan was for family members, business, for charity and for his religious school, or madrassa, in his ancestral Swat Valley. While no fan of the Pakistani government, Khan insisted he was against the Taliban.
"His intent had nothing to do with terrorism, nothing at all," said Khan attorney Khurrum Wahid. "What it is really all about is the innocent people of the village."
Khan also testified that he lied repeatedly to a man he thought was a Taliban supporter because the man had promised to give Khan $1 million for needy people and the school. That man, Mahmood Siddiqui, turned out to be an FBI informant who wore a wire to record their talks.
Shipley scoffed at that explanation, noting that Khan made similar comments in favor of the Taliban during phone calls with friends and family.
"That is an absurd story," the prosecutor said.
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 previously 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.
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