Contrasting images emerge of Miami imam arrested on terror charges

The Miami HeraldMay 20, 2011 

To his mostly Spanish-speaking neighbors, the wizened, white-whiskered man shuffling daily between a humble Miami mosque and humbler apartment across the street, was a curiosity. “ El viejito barbon,” one woman called him. The little old bearded man.

Even in the mosque where he led prayers five times a day for more than a decade, he was a quaint figure. Some youngsters, oblivious to religious sensibilities, dubbed him “the Santa Claus imam.’’ Adults revered his religious acumen and gentle manner, but he seemed to live a world apart from most fellow Muslims, isolated from all but the few who spoke the Urdu, Pashto or Arabic of his native northern Pakistan.

A federal indictment unsealed Saturday paints a different portrait of Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan.

Prosecutors branded the 76-year-old – who looked doddering in federal court this week – as ringleader of a family-run conspiracy to funnel money to arm the Pakistani Taliban, a U.S.-designated terror organization, and describe him advocating the killing of Pakistani leaders and Americans.

The indictment accuses Khan of collaborating with three of his four children and a grandchild to provide “material support” to terrorists overseas. Among them: youngest son, Izhar Khan, a rising star at a Northwest Broward mosque who authorities say played a lesser role by once wiring cash overseas.

In the week since the arrest of the two men, members of both mosques and leaders of South Florida’s Muslim community have struggled to fit that militant image to the quiet, unassuming clerics they know.

“It makes no sense because he lives such a pious life," said Wayne Rawlins, a volunteer aide to the imam at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami in Miami Gardens, who used to attend the Flagler Mosque where the elder Kahn served as imam since at least 1999. “No one can imagine he was involved in any of this."

Similar disbelief was expressed at Masjid Jammat Al-Mumineen in Margate, where 24-year-old Izhar Khan had ascended to imam at an age when most hopefuls are barely halfway through studies that, for starters, require they learn the 114 sura, or chapters, of the Quran by heart.

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