Courts & Crime

Miami imam to fight terrorism charges

The leader of a Miami mosque, wearing a traditional Muslim head covering, thick black-rimmed glasses and a long-flowing white beard, seemed bewildered in federal court Monday as he stood handcuffed before a magistrate judge on terrorism charges.

Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan, 76, arrested Saturday along with two sons, learned that he will have to wait until May 23 for a formal detention hearing to find out whether he must remain behind bars until trial.

Khan, four other family members and a Pakistani man have been charged with conspiring to provide “material support” to terrorists, including sending thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban for guns and training to destroy U.S. interests in Pakistan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley said he will seek to hold Khan, imam of a Miami mosque, and one of his sons, Izhar Khan, imam of a Broward County mosque, before trial. Shipley said the two imams, both U.S. citizens born in Pakistan, are a danger to the community and a flight risk.

Hafiz Khan’s attorney said outside the federal courthouse that his client, leader of Miami’s Flagler Mosque for the past decade, will fight the four-count terrorism conspiracy indictment brought against him, two sons, two other family members and a Pakistani man.

“I have no question through this process we will be able to vindicate Mr. Khan,” said his attorney, Khurrum Wahid. “I ask the public to keep an open mind. ... He is absolutely entering a plea of not guilty.”

Khan’s son, Izhar, 24, must still hire a private attorney after U.S. Magistrate Barry Garber found he did not qualify for a federal public defender because he owns a home in North Lauderdale, draws a $3,000-a-month salary as an imam and has $28,000 in his bank account.

On Saturday, FBI agents arrested Hafiz Khan and Izhar Khan in South Florida and a third son, Irfan Khan, in Los Angeles. Two other family members and the Pakistani national are at-large in Pakistan. All are charged with plotting to finance the terrorist activities of the Taliban rebels in Pakistan by funneling at least $50,000 through American banks to the insurgents for guns, training, schools and other resources to carry out violent attacks against U.S. forces and allies in that region.

The investigation of Hafiz Khan and the others started in late 2008 when U.S. banks began reporting suspicious financial transactions by the father to his bank accounts in Pakistan, according to authorities. It was not clear whether the father and son solicited donations from their mosques for the alleged money transfers to the Pakistani Taliban.

To build the case, FBI agents wiretapped phone conversations for two years in which Hafiz Khan and others were recorded talking about transferring tens of thousands of dollars to Pakistani militants for planned assaults against the Pakistan government and U.S. forces.

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