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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Sins of the Father’ Won’t Doom Muslim Imam

(CN) - A federal judge acquitted a Florida imam accused of conspiring to help the Taliban, refusing to give weight to the apparent guilt of the defendant's father's on similar charges.

"This court will not allow the sins of the father to be visited upon the son," U.S. District Judge Robert Scola wrote Thursday.

Izhar Khan was charged in the Southern District of Florida with participating in a conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; participating in a conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization; and providing, or attempting to provide, material support to terrorists.

Both Izhar Khan and his father, Hafiz Khan, led mosques in Florida. Hafiz, who served as an imam at a Miami mosque, was recorded speaking "openly and brazenly about his support for the following; Jihad (holy war), the Taliban, the Mujahideen (fighters), the death of American soldiers, the death of the Pakistani Assembly and its members, and the death of Pakistani army soldiers and police officers," according to the ruling.

"He spoke of raising money that would be used to support the Taliban in its efforts to violently overthrow the Pakistani government and impose Sharia law in Pakistan," Scola added. "He actually did send money to friends and family in Pakistan knowing that the money was going to be directed to support the Pakistani Taliban. He praised many of the Taliban's violent acts, including the use of suicide bombers who killed troops and police officers, the attempted bombing in Times Square, the bombing of a hotel in Islamabad, and numerous other acts of violence in the name of Jihad."

On this basis, Scola noted that he refused to acquit Hafiz.

"In contrast to the overwhelming evidence against the father, the evidence against the son, Izhar Khan, falls short of the amount needed to sustain a conviction," the ruling states.

Scola noted that Izhar Khan served as an imam at a mosque in Miramar, Fla.

Investigators recorded six telephone calls he had with his father; one brief face-to-face meeting with the confidential informant, and conversation he had with his father while they sat in a police vehicle after being arrested.

"Although the father spoke openly and brazenly about the Taliban, Jihad, and the Mujahideen with numerous other individuals, he never mentioned those terms during the phone calls with his son," according to the ruling. "Nor did the father talk to his son about supporting the violent overthrow of the Pakistani government or the killing of American or Pakistani soldiers. Although the father was recorded talking openly with others about his daughter Amina Khan's support of the Taliban, he was never recorded telling anyone that Izhar Khan supported the Taliban."

Izhar Khan also never discussed anything incriminating with or in front of the confidential informant, the court found.

Investigators did show that Izhar Khan helped send money to Pakistan, but they failed to show that he intended for the funds to support illegal activities.

The sole evidence of this charge "was a voicemail the father left on Izhar Khan's cell phone in which the father asked Izhar Khan to pick up a $300.00 check from Dr. Zakia Subhani to be sent to Pakistan for the 'Mujahideen,'" Scola wrote.

"Yet even in the light most favorable to the government, the evidence does not establish that


Izhar Khan ever listened to that voicemail. The voicemail was one minute, fifty-seven seconds long. Nineteen seconds after the voicemail was left, Izhar Khan called his father back. Thus, he could not have listened to the voicemail before he spoke to his father. The phone call to the father was recorded. The father asks Izhar Khan to pick up money from Dr. Subhani but never tells him the purpose of the money."

Trial testimony showed that many Pakistani Americans were sending money to friends and family in Pakistan for humanitarian purposes at this time because the Taliban and Pakistan army were engaged in many battles in the Swat Valley during which innocent villagers' homes were destroyed and many Pakistanis were displaced.

Much of the money went - not to assist the Taliban - but to help the families who were displaced or whose homes were damaged because of the war there, FBI Special Agent Michael Ferlazzo testified.

"Significantly, Izhar Khan is recorded in other conversations talking about sending money to help needy people in Pakistan," Scola wrote.

He said that a reasonable jury could not "find beyond a reasonable doubt that Izhar Khan's participated in this $300 transaction knowing or intending that the money would be used to support the Taliban or a violent conspiracy."

Evidence showing that Izhar Khan's sister, Amina Khan, supported the Taliban also cannot taint a $900 payment that Izhar sent her, the court found.

"In fact, in the recorded conversation Izhar Khan has with his father concerning this transaction, there is no discussion of the Taliban, Jihad, or the Mujahideen," Scola wrote. "The government argues that the father mentioned to Izhar that some of the money was going to be used to help someone that was injured during the fighting. But there was evidence during the trial that innocent people were injured during the fighting. Although there is overwhelming evidence that the father and Amina knew that the person was injured while fighting for the Taliban, there is no evidence that Izhar knew the injured person's identity or his association with the Taliban. So a reasonable jury cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that Izhar Khan knew that the $900 he sent was going to be used to support the Taliban or that this money was intended to support the Taliban.

While speaking in the police vehicle after their arrest, Hafiz Khan told Izhar Khan that the agents asked him if he sent money to or if he was associated with the Taliban.

Izhar Khan asked his father whether he told the police "those names."

"That name - name .... For that - that you have said that 'I am sending money to them,'" according to the transcript of the secretly recorded conversation.

But Scola did not find the conversation as incriminating as the government hoped.

"While that discussion may inculpate the father, it does not establish any guilt of the son," he wrote. "The father had already told Izhar Khan that the agents had accused him (the father) of sending money to the Taliban or supporting the Taliban. Izhar Khan's question as to whether the father mentioned the name can reasonably be interpreted as referring to mentioning the name 'Taliban.' But it does not follow that this question is evidence of lzhar Khan's guilt. His father has told him that the father was accused of supporting the Taliban and Izhar Khan is simply asking the father if the father used the name Taliban which, if he had, would incriminate the father. Izhar Khan never admits that he ever used the name or had any connection to the Taliban. So a reasonable jury cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that Izhar Khan possessed the requisite knowledge or intent."

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