Commentary: Muslim faith caught in terrorism's shadow again

The shock that South Florida Muslims universally express over terrorism charges filed against Imam Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan reflects widespread disbelief by members of this law-abiding community that one of their leaders could be involved in such reprehensible criminal activity.

No wonder. Unlike other U.S. Muslims who have been accused of supporting terrorism or engaging in terrorist acts, Imam Khan is a well-known and respected figure in Miami. He did not keep to the shadows, as have other terrorist suspects, and his public life yielded no clue that he might be involved in radical activity. Instead, he led prayers at a mosque five times a day and counseled the faithful. Instead of delivering jihadist sermons, the 76-year-old religious leader preached the traditional, mainstream version of Islam that rejects violence and stresses peace and the sanctity of life.

By all accounts, he is habitually soft-spoken and avoids harsh language. In court after his arrest, he cut a forlorn figure — fragile and stooped-over, hardly a menacing individual. All of this contributes to the surreal feeling among some Muslims, especially his devout followers, regarding the accusations. Could the charges be true?

Yet the four-count indictment that federal prosecutors and the FBI brought against the Muslim cleric and four other Khan family members and a Pakistani man paints a distinctly different portrait of the imam, bolstered by a remarkably explicit set of 27 “overt acts.”

These actions form the basis of the criminal allegations of conspiring to provide support and material resources to the Pakistani Taliban to be used against the government and its allies — including the United States. Unlike the terrorism indictment against former Broward resident and one-time enemy combatant Jose Padilla, who resorted to euphemisms for weapons and so forth (which had to be explained in court by a prosecution witness), this indictment makes repeated, clear references to multiple transfers of funds for specific purposes in support of criminal activity. On one occasion, upon hearing that Taliban fighters in Afghanistan had killed seven American soldiers, Imam Khan allegedly “declared his wish that God bring death to 50,000 more.”

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