Federal law enforcement agents arrested three South Florida residents early Saturday on charges that they helped funnel money to Taliban terrorists in Pakistan.
The money they collected, prosecutors said, was intended to be used to buy guns, support militants and their families and operate an Islamic school with militant ties. Prosecutors say the group discussed killing Pakistani officials and had desires to kill American troops.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer announced the indictment of Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, a 76-year-old Miami resident, along with two sons: Irfan Khan, a 37-year-old Miami resident, and Izhar Khan, a 24-year-old North Lauderdale resident. Izhar Khan, is an imam at the Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen mosque in Margate, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The three along with three residents of Pakistan are charged with providing support for a conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas as well as conspiring to support to a foreign terrorist organization.
FBI agents arrested Hafiz Khan after morning services at his mosque in Miami and arrested Izhar Khan at the Margate mosque shortly before he was to start services. Irfan Khan was awaken by agents at a hotel in Los Angeles at 3 a.m. Pacific coast time and arrested.
Between 25 and 30 agents arrived at the Miami mosque around 6:15 a.m. and waited until services were finished to arrest Hafiz Khan, according to Musa Kebir, a 51-year-old Algerian native.
"Despite being an imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace," Ferrer said in his statement. "Instead, as today's charges show, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming. But for law enforcement intervention, these defendants would have continued to transfer funds to Pakistan to finance the Pakistani Taliban, including its purchase of guns."
Prosecutors said there is no link between today's arrests and the recent death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Hafiz Khan and Izhar Khan are expected to appear in federal court in Miami on Monday Irfan Khan is expected to make his initial appearance there.
If convicted, each faces a potential 15 years in prison for each count of the indictment. The other three are at large in Pakistan, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. They are Ali Rehman, aka "Faisal Ali Rehman;" Alam Zeb; and Amina Khan, aka "Amina Bibi." Amina Khan is the daughter of Khan and her son, Alam Zeb, is Khan's grandson.
The three South Florida residents are originally from Pakistan but are U.S. citizens, according to the press release. Hafiz Khan is the imam at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque, in Miami.
Family and friends of the Khans were shocked by the arrests.
Ikram Khan, another son of Hafiz Khan and a Miami taxi driver, said his father was too old and sick to be involved in such events. He said the family has lived in the United States since 1994.
"None of my family supports the Taliban," Ikram Khan said. "We support this country."
Hafiz Khan lives next to the mosque. His wife answered the door there, but told reporters she did not speak English.
Arif Baig, a 50-year-old Pakistani who runs a convenience store in Little Havana, said he could not believe the allegations and questioned if law enforcement was stereotyping the elder Khan.
"What a stupid thing to say," Baig said. "He is an old man. People who come to this country send money back home."
He added, "There is not even a 1 percent chance that he would do this."
The president of the Margate mosque, Yazid Ali, said the mosque is cooperating with authorities and noted that there are no charges against the mosque itself.