US imams held over Taliban aid

‘TIP OF THE ICEBERG’::The indictment said US$50,000 was transferred to the Pakistani Taliban, but prosecutors said there was evidence that much more had been sent

Reuters, MIAMI

Mon, May 16, 2011 - Page 7

The imam of a Florida mosque and his two sons, one also a Muslim spiritual leader, were arrested on Saturday on charges of financing and supporting the Pakistani Taliban, US officials said.

The three Pakistan-born US citizens were among six charged in a US indictment that accused them of “supporting acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming in Pakistan and elsewhere” carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, which Washington calls a terrorist organization.

The indictment, announced by US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer and the FBI, charged the six with creating a network that transferred funds from the US to Pakistani Taliban supporters and fighters in Pakistan, including for the purpose of buying arms.

If convicted, each faces up to 15 years in prison for each count of the indictment.

The charges were revealed as US relations with Pakistan are strained over the US raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s parliament on Saturday condemned the raid that killed bin Laden and called for a review of relations with the US.

The indictment detailed money transfers totaling about US$50,000, but Ferrer said there was evidence more had been sent.

“This was just the tip of the iceberg,” he told reporters.

Two of the accused, Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, and his son, Izhar Khan, 24, were arrested in south Florida after prayer services at the mosques where they were spiritual leaders, or imams.

Another son, Irfan Khan, 37, was detained early on Saturday in a Los Angeles hotel room.

Hafiz Khan is the imam at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque, in Miami. His son, Izhar Khan, is an imam at the Jamaat al-Mu’mineen Mosque in Margate, Florida, according to the indictment.

The other three charged, Ali Rehman, Alam Zeb and Amina Khan, were living in Pakistan and are still at large. Amina Khan is the daughter of Hafiz Khan and her son, Alam Zeb, is his grandson.

Pakistani officials said they had not received any US request for helping in tracking down the three suspects in Pakistan.

“We haven’t received anything yet, no concrete information, we’ve just seen it in the newspapers,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said. “We are contacting our mission there to check with authorities.”

The Miami Mosque, a small single-story building in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood not far from Miami International Airport, was empty later on Saturday. Shoes and slippers, which are removed by worshipers before entering a mosque, could seen outside.

Neighbors were surprised by the arrests and described Hafiz Khan and his family as “really quiet people.”

“I’ve lived here for nine years. We’ve had no problem or complaint with them ... We always just said: ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye,’” said Virginia Vergara, 37, who lived in the same duplex building as Hafiz Khan.

The Miami Herald quoted another of Hafiz Khan’s sons, taxi driver Ikram Khan, as saying his father was too old and sick to be involved in backing militants and that none of his family supported the Pakistani Taliban.

US officials said the arrests and charges followed a three-year investigation into suspicious financial transactions and were based on recorded conversations and a trail of money moving from US bank accounts to Pakistan.