By Melissa Sanchez and Laura Edwins
MIAMI - The leader of the oldest mosque in Miami, four other family members and a Pakistani man have been indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Florida on charges of financing and supporting Pakistani terrorists.
The four-count indictment, filed Thursday, charges Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, imam at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque; his son, Izhar Khan, 24, imam at the Jamaat Al-Mu'mineen mosque in Margate; and one of his other sons, Irfan Khan, 37, of North Lauderdale. All are U.S. citizens who are originally from Pakistan.
FBI agents arrested Hafiz Khan and Izhar Khan on Saturday morning in South Florida. Irfan Khan was arrested near Los Angeles. The remaining suspects are at large in Pakistan, according to the U.S. attorney.
"Despite being an imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace," U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said. "Instead, as today's charges show, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming."
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."
The other three suspects in Pakistan were identified as Ali Rehman, also known as "Faisal Ali Rehman"; Alam Zeb; and Amina Khan, also known as "Amina Bibi." Amina Khan is the daughter of Hafiz Khan, and her son, Alam Zeb, is Hafiz Khan's grandson.
The suspects are charged with conspiring to provide support, and providing material support to a conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap persons overseas, as well as conspiring to provide material support to the Pakistani Taliban.The suspects in Pakistan are also charged with providing material support to the Taliban.
The indictment does not charge the mosques themselves with any wrongdoing. The individuals are charged based on evidence that they provided support to terrorists, not on their religious beliefs or teachings, according to authorities. Authorities said the arrests had no connection to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
FBI agents arrested Hafiz Khan at the Miami Mosque about 6 a.m., at the start of Saturday's dawn prayer.
As a group of about 20 Muslims began to pray, a handful of FBI agents knocked and walked in, said one man who was there, Musa Kebir. The agents who went inside removed their shoes, he added.
"They asked us to stop the prayer because they had to make an arrest," said Kebir, a 51-year-old immigrant from Algeria. "But once you start you can't stop, so they waited."
After prayers broke about 15 minutes later, the agents handcuffed Hafiz Khan and walked him outside. The imam, who was described as old and frail, spoke in a Pakistani dialect to others in the room as he was walked out.
About 25 agents were outside the mosque, blocking neighborhood streets. One member of the mosque said the police had blocked the streets before he could arrive for dawn prayer.
News of the arrest spread throughout the day. Many mosque members expressed disbelief at the accusations against their leader.
"What a stupid thing," said Arif Baig, 50, of the arrests. The Miami man had brought his two children to a Koran class at the Flagler mosque on Saturday afternoon.
"He has nothing to do with (the Taliban). It's just because he has a beard and is from that part of the world."
Baig said the imam has four sons and lives in a rented apartment behind a nearby house. He added that imams don't make much money.
"He's poor," Baig said, scoffing at the charges. "He doesn't have money to send over there."
At the tiny apartment, an older woman in a white scarf hesitated to answer the door when reporters showed up. She said she does not speak English.
The Muslim Communities Association, which owns the Flagler Mosque and another mosque in Miami Gardens, issued a statement condemning any act or attempt to support, directly or indirectly, extremism, violence or terrorism. However, the organization emphasized that those arrested should be presumed innocent until guilt is proved.
Hafiz Kahn has been suspended indefinitely, according to the statement.
"The indictment and arrests were based on the defendants' words, actions and bank accounts," said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. "They were providing anything the Taliban needed in Pakistan to sustain their effort."
In addition, the indictment alleges than Khan supported the Pakistani Taliban through a madrassa, or Islamic school, that he founded and controlled in the Swat region of Pakistan. The madrassa was allegedly used to provide Taliban members with shelter and aid, and to train children as members of the mushandi, Islamic militant fighters. Some of the children have been trained to kill Americans in Afghanistan, according to authorities.
The three-year investigation is ongoing. John Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI's Miami office, said that the funds raised by Khan and his sons were traced from their bank accounts in America to their bank accounts in Pakistan, and that the FBI first became aware of suspicious activity in 2009.
The indictment outlined $50,000 in wire transfers between Khan and the Pakistani members of the conspiracy, but Ferrer said that amount is just the tip of the iceberg.
"These individuals used bank accounts and wire services to transfer money to the Taliban to promote their efforts," Ferrer said. "They used the money to provide guns and support to the Taliban and their families."
According to Ferrer, in Pakistan, it costs about $10 to buy a gun.