Six indicted in plot to raise money for terrorism; 1 is held in L.A.
Federal authorities charged three members of a South Florida family, including one arrested in Los Angeles, in a conspiracy to raise money for weapons to “murder, maim and kidnap” people overseas and bolster the Pakistani Taliban.
Three other people in Pakistan, at least two of them related to the Florida family, were also charged.
Authorities say the ringleader of the group is Hafiz Khan, a 76-year-old imam at a mosque in Miami. He was arrested Saturday by a group of nearly 30 FBI agents who waited until his early-morning services were done before taking him into custody.
His 24-year-old son, Izhar Khan, who is a religious leader at a mosque in nearby Margate, Fla., also was arrested.
Another son, Irfan Khan, 37, was arrested at 3 a.m. in a hotel room in El Segundo. A U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, he lives in Miami. The indictment says that he “is a Pakistani Taliban sympathizer who worked with [his father] and others to collect and deliver money for the Pakistani Taliban.”
Officials said the suspects raised up to $45,000 and were linked to the Pakistani Taliban, the group that recruited the would-be Times Square bomber in New York last year.
The Pakistani Taliban also has been deeply involved in assaults against U.S. interests abroad, such as the December 2009 suicide attack on a U.S. military base in Khowst, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA operatives near the Pakistani border.
The father and sons were being held without bail until court appearances Monday in Miami and Los Angeles, when they are expected to respond to the charges. Three other defendants remained at large and were believed to be in Pakistan.
A third son who was not charged, Ikram Khan, sharply denied that his father and siblings were terrorists or tied to any terrorist organization, and said his father was too old and ill to engage in such activities. He said they had immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1994.
“None of my family supports the Taliban,” he told the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. “We support this country.”
The indictment alleges that the six solicited and collected money and transferred it from the U.S. to supporters of the Taliban in Pakistan. They are accused of using bank accounts and wire transfers to move the funds, which were intended to purchase guns and other weapons to further the Taliban’s militant efforts to overthrow the Pakistani government and attack Americans there.
The indictment specifically charges the six individuals with conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas, and with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Also charged were three suspects in Pakistan: Amina Khan, a daughter of the alleged ringleader; her son, Alam Zeb; and Ali Rehman. U.S. and Pakistani officials are working together to find them, the U.S. said.
Hafiz Khan also was charged with sending additional funds to support an Islamic school he founded and controlled in the Swat region of Pakistan. Federal authorities say he used the school to shelter militants and their families, and to teach the “children from his madrassa [school] to learn to kill Americans in Afghanistan.”
Authorities said they also picked up Hafiz Khan on a recording in which he discussed the attack at Khowst and the seven Americans who died. Hafiz Khan declared his “wish that God kill 50,000 more.”
He also was overheard calling for the death of the Pakistani president, the indictment said, and “for blood to be shed in a violent revolution similar to that which occurred in Iran.”
According to U.S. authorities, the federal investigation began three years ago when agents began noticing suspicious financial transactions to Pakistan. As the investigation grew, they said, wiretaps were used to follow the group’s activities through November 2010.
But unlike other recent arrests of terrorism suspects in the U.S., there was no undercover sting operation.
U.S. officials said the arrests were not related to the death of Osama Bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader, two weeks ago at the hands of U.S. commandos.
U.S. Atty. Wilfredo A. Ferrer in Miami said that “despite being an imam or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace. Instead he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming.”
John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the Miami field office, said: “Terrorists have lost another funding source to use against innocent people and U.S. interests.”
He said that even though two of the defendants served as religious leaders, “the Muslim and Arab American members of our community should never be judged by the illegal activities of a few.”
If convicted, the defendants could face 15 years for each of the four counts in the indictment.
Scott Wyman, Mike Clary, Paula McMahon, Linda Trischitta and Wayne Roustan of the Sun Sentinel and Times staff writer Jack Leonard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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