MIAMI (AP) — Evidence is overwhelming from hundreds of recorded conversations and financial records that an elderly Muslim cleric enthusiastically supported the violent Pakistani Taliban terror organization, a prosecutor said in a closing argument Monday.
Quoting several passages from FBI intercepts of Hafiz Khan's conversations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sivashree Sundaram said Khan repeatedly praised Taliban suicide bombers and grenade attacks that killed both Americans and Pakistanis. She pointed to other recordings in which Khan said he wished a 2010 attempt by a Taliban-linked operative to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square had succeeded.
"This is a straightforward case," Sundaram told jurors as the two-month trial drew to a close. "This defendant convicted himself with his own words and actions. These are not the words of a peace-loving man."
Khan, the 77-year-old imam at a Miami mosque, is charged with conspiracy and terrorism material support for allegedly sending about $50,000 between 2008 and 2010 to the help the Taliban cause in his native Pakistan. If convicted, Khan faces up to 15 years in prison on each of the four charges. He has been jailed since his May 2011 arrest.
Khan, a naturalized U.S. citizen who came from Pakistan in 1994, testified over four days in his own defense, insisting that he opposed Islamic extremists and lied about supporting them in hopes of getting $1 million from a man he believed was another Taliban backer. In fact, that man was an FBI informant who wore a wire to record many of their discussions.
Khan also claimed the money he sent overseas was for family or business purposes, or for a religious school called a madrassa he owns in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
Khan's attorney, Khurrum Wahid, said in his closing argument that the imam was simply speaking out strongly about Pakistan's political situation and that prosecutors had failed to show that the Taliban received the money he sent. Wahid said the prosecution's case was "cobbled together" with phone calls over a two-year period involving an "elderly man who clearly has problems with impulse control."
"This is America. You're able to say. You're able to think. You can't take that extra step and do something illegal," Wahid said.
Authorities have acknowledged that not every dime from Khan went to extremists. But Sundaram said Khan contradicted his own words on FBI recording in which he talked about helping wounded mujahedeen fighters and buying weapons.
"He told you the most fantastic stories," she said. "He had answers — just nothing that made sense or rang true."
Jurors are likely to begin deliberations Tuesday. While Sundaram laid out the U.S. case, the white-bearded, bespectacled Khan sat hunched at the defense table listening to a Pashto translation, occasionally grumbling aloud in that language.
Earlier Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola denied a defense request to acquit Khan on all charges based on lack of evidence. To the contrary, Scola ruled that there was "more than sufficient evidence" for jurors to potentially convict Khan on all charges. Jurors were not present when the ruling was made.
Two of Khan's sons were previously charged in the same case, but Scola ordered the acquittal of one and prosecutors dropped the case against the other. Three other people, including one of Khan's daughters and his grandson, were also indicted but remain in Pakistan, which does not extradite its citizens to face U.S. criminal charges.
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