Trial begins for 2 men accused of funding Taliban
MIAMI— A U.S. prosecutor said Friday that a Muslim cleric and his son who are accused of funneling thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban did so “in the name of a perverted form of the Muslim faith.”
Hafiz Khan, 77, and his 26-year old son, Izhar Khan, have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and material support to terrorism. The elder Khan was imam at a Miami mosque, and his son held the same post at a suburban mosque.
They are accused of sending more than $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban to help Taliban fighters after a Pakistan army offensive into the Swat Valley in summer 2009.
Each count the father and son face carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
In opening statements, assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley Jr. said Hafiz Khan expressed his backing for the Taliban supporter who tried to plant a bomb in New York City’s Times Square in summer 2010. The Pakistani Taliban has been linked to al-Qaida, and authorities say the group was connected to the Times Square bombing attempt.
A starkly different picture was painted by the elder Khan’s defense attorney, Khurrum Wahid, and the attorney for the son, Joseph Rosenbaum. They said prosecutors are misinterpreting thousands of phone conversations, intercepts and the bugged conversations of an informant.
Wahid told the jury that the elder cleric’s words are filled with expressions of love for his madrassa, the school he founded in Pakistan’s Swat Valley decades ago.
“He loved that school even more than his own family,” Wahid said. He added that the cleric was lashing out verbally against those who hurt his people.
“He was speaking in words that were not politically correct,” Wahid said.
Rosenbaum said the government had little evidence and in this case was “just plain wrong.”