Fla. imam claims extremist talk was all lies

February 20, 2013 - 6:29 PM

MIAMI (AP) — In combative testimony, a Muslim cleric on trial on charges he provided financial support to the Pakistani Taliban insisted Wednesday that he repeatedly lied about harboring extremist views to obtain $1 million from a man who turned out to be an FBI informant.

Hafiz Khan, the 77-year-old imam at a Miami mosque, said he was deceptive only because the man he knew as Mahmood Siddiqui promised him money he could use to help the poor and victims of war and natural disasters in Pakistan's Swat Valley. What Khan didn't know at the time was that their discussions were being recorded by the FBI.

Still, Khan insisted his motives were pure in praising Taliban violence on the recordings.

"In front of God, I did the right thing. In front of my tribe, I did the right thing," Khan testified in Pashto through an interpreter. "It was all lies, and it was all because of the money."

Khan spent a second day on the witness stand in his own defense on charges of funneling at least $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban beginning in 2008. He previously testified that money he sent overseas was for the poor, for his extended family and for a religious school, or madrassa, he owns in the Swat Valley. He insisted he has never supported the Taliban.

The imam repeatedly clashed during cross-examination with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley, who pressed Khan on whether the FBI recordings represented his true beliefs on terrorism. Among other things, the recordings have Khan praising the attempted bombing in 2010 in New York's Times Square and hoping that Americans would die trying to capture former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

In taped conversations with the informant Siddiqui, Khan answered, "There are many times I am agreeing with him, but that does not mean that I mean it. I didn't want to harm anyone."

Shipley, however, pointed out that Khan made similar comments in telephone conversations with friends and family members that were also intercepted by the FBI. Among them, the prosecutor said, was that it was justifiable to kill Pakistani police and government officials because they had supposedly committed killings and atrocities themselves.

"What you are suggesting is exactly what the Taliban and al-Qaida have suggested for years. And we heard it in this courtroom," Shipley said.

Khan frequently attacked Shipley's questions, calling them repetitive, and going off on lengthy, rambling speeches that didn't provide answers. At one point, the imam suggested Shipley was mentally imbalanced.

"I kindly suggest to you that you go to a hospital," Khan said, adding that the cross-examination was a waste of time.

"I'll let the jury make that determination, Mr. Khan," the prosecutor said.

During a break with jurors out of the courtroom, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola told Khan he should tone it down.

"You are never going to convince Mr. Shipley to change his mind about you. The only chance you have is to convince the jury to believe you," the judge said.

Khan, who has been jailed since his May 2011 arrest, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on each of four terrorism support-related counts. Two of his sons who were also arrested have had their charges dismissed, one by the prosecution and one by Scola for lack of evidence.

Khan is likely the final defense witness in a trial that began in early January. Several others had planned to testify via video link from Pakistan, but the transmission was cut off in the middle of the second witness. No explanation has been given as to what happened.

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