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Two local imams charged with supporting the Taliban; local Muslims react

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(5/16/11) WEST MIAMI-DADE, FL – two prayer leaders, or Imams, were arrested by federal agents on Saturday morning on charges of providing material support to the Pakistani Taliban and had their first appearance before a federal court earlier today. The Court reset the detention hearing to next Tuesday.

76 year-old Hafiz Khan, and his son, 24 year-old Izhar Khan, were taken into custody in Miami-Dade County and in Broward County, respectively. Both men, along with another son, 37 year-old Irfan Khan, arrested in Los Angeles, have been charged in a 4-count Indictment of sending at least $50,000 via wire transfers since 2008 to family members in the Northwest Province of Pakistan. The elder Khan has also been charged with supporting the Pakistani Taliban, designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, by running a school which also allegedly harbors Taliban fighters and allegedly trains children to become Taliban fighters.

Hafiz Khan is also a prayer leader at the Masjid Miami, also known as the Flagler Mosque, operated by the Muslim Communities Association. Izhar Khan is the prayer leader at Jamat Ul Mu’mineen Mosque in Margate, FL. Neither mosque nor any other member of the Muslim community have been implicated in the indictment. Wifredo Ferrer, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida has emphasized that this indictment only names 6 individuals from one family, and does not involve and is not aimed at the Muslim community, the mosques, or Islam as a faith and culture.

The Muslim Communities Association of South Florida (MCA) along with the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations (COSMOS) immediately issued a press release Saturday condemning any and all acts of terrorism, extremism or providing support to terrorism or extremism in all its forms by anyone, but reiterated that the indictment is simply a charging document made up of allegations which the government has yet to prove. In addition, the organization praised the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for its handling of the arrests, which, it said, were done in a respectful and dignified manner.

In a press conference held in conjunction with the Council on American-Islamic Relations-South Florida, MCA and COSMOS credited the Muslim community’s relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Miami FBI branch for the government’s sensitivity and discretion when executing the arrests, for reaching out to the Muslim community very shortly after the arrests and for requesting local law enforcement increase security and patrols around Islamic houses of worship in South Florida in case of retaliation and backlash.

The organization has suspended Hafiz Khan of his duties indefinitely, and emphasized that no mosque funds, donations or other monies collected on behalf of the organization or mosque are involved in the government’s allegations, and the government has assured them that their mosques are not involved.

Since the arrests, Hafiz Khan’s family has retained attorney Khurrum Wahid to represent him at his first appearance on Monday. In court, the federal judge reset the detention hearing to next Tuesday at 10am to allow Izhar Khan to retain an attorney. Wahid indicated that his client will plead Not Guilty.

In addition, the Associated Press reported from Pakistan that Khan’s grandson, Alam Zeb, also named in the indictment, rejected the government’s allegations. The AP also reported that the school referred to in the indictment is an all-girls school set up prior to the Taliban taking control of the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. The headmaster of the school told reporters that the school was shut down when the villagers fled because of the Taliban invasion, and only after the Pakistani Army flushed the Taliban out of the region were they able to reopen again under the supervision and approval of the Pakistani government. They noted that the Taliban would not have tolerated an all-girls school in their village, forcing them to close the school during the Taliban occupation.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This author is the official spokesperson for the Muslim Communities Association. This article, however, is written for Examiner.com as a news article and is not posted on behalf of MCA, or the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, and is not intended to represent the opinions of anyone other than this author. This author is also the point of contact for all media inquiries to the MCA or COSMOS on this topic.

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