FBI: Fla. imam's son key to terror support network

July 19, 2011 - 4:30 PM

MIAMI (AP) — The son of a South Florida Muslim cleric was a key part of his father's alleged finance network for the Pakistani Taliban terror group and shared the older man's support for violent attacks, an FBI agent testified Tuesday.

Agent Michael Ferlazzo said at a bail hearing that 37-year-old Irfan Khan appears to advocate violence repeatedly on some of the more than 1,000 phone calls the FBI recorded between he and his father, brother and other alleged conspirators. On one call, Ferlazzo said, Irfan Khan referred to Pakistan's government as "big pimps."

"They're talking about violent opposition to the government," Ferlazzo said. On another call, the agent said, Irfan Khan seemed pleased that people feared the Pakistani Taliban "because of how lethal they had become."

Irfan Khan, his 24-year-old brother Izhar Khan and their father, 76-year-old Hafiz Khan, are charged along with three others — including Hafiz Khan's daughter, Amina — in Pakistan with four terrorism support-related crimes. Prosecutors say they funneled at least $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban, which is waging a violent campaign against Pakistan's government and has also targeted U.S. interests. The Khans have pleaded not guilty. The three charged in Pakistan remain at large.

U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan is considering bail requests from the two brothers, but he has rejected bail for Hafiz Khan. Jordan said he would decide on whether to release Irfan Khan on bail by the middle of next week. Attorneys for the brothers have argued there is little evidence linking them to terrorism.

Prosecutors want all three kept behind bars until trial. Prosecutor Sivashree Sundaram said Irfan Khan played a "vital role" in his father's support network, including making several money transfers to Pakistan, and expressed support for the Taliban's violent campaign in several of the recorded calls.

But Irfan Khan's attorney, Sowmaya Bharathi, said most of his comments could be chalked up to passionate political talk about Pakistan's government and its troubles, not evidence of support for terrorism.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with people exchanging information about horrible events in a part of the world they have a connection to," Bharathi said. "Characterizing a government as a pimp is far from advocating violence."

She said nearly two dozen people, including members of Irfan Khan's cricket team, were willing to put up cash and property to secure his release on bail. She noted that he has a wife and two young children in South Florida and would be able to get a job driving a taxi if released.

"He is going to stay here and fight the charges," Bharathi said.

Jordan has not said when he will rule on bail for Izhar Khan, who is imam at a mosque in suburban Margate. Hafiz Khan is imam at Miami's oldest mosque.

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