MIAMI – A federal judge on Thursday dismissed terrorism support and conspiracy charges against the younger of two Muslim clerics accused of funneling thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban, citing a lack of evidence.
The judge ruled that "no rational trier of fact" could convict 26-year-old Izhar Khan, who is imam at a mosque in suburban Margate north of Fort Lauderdale. Trial is continuing against his father, 77-year-old Hafiz Khan. U.S. District Judge Robert Scola said the evidence against the older Khan is much stronger.
"This court will not allow the sins of the father to be visited upon the son," Scola wrote in a seven-page order.
Federal prosecutors earlier dropped charges against another of Hafiz Khan's sons who also had minimal involvement. Izhar Khan's attorney, Joseph Rosenbaum, said a judge's dismissal of charges is rare, particularly in a case linked to international terrorism.
"It shows that the justice system does work despite going against the federal government," Rosenbaum said. "I've always believed Izhar was innocent. The judge really paid attention and the evidence was not there."
Izhar Khan, who has been jailed in since his May 2011 arrest, was immediately freed after the judge's decision.
"I'm happy with the justice system, to say the least, and I think justice was served," he told reporters outside Miami's downtown federal court complex.
Hafiz Khan, imam at a downtown Miami mosque, still faces four terrorism support-related charges that each carry maximum 15-year prison sentences. Prosecutors said Hafiz Khan orchestrated the sending of at $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban between 2008 and 2010, money that was allegedly used to help mujahedeen fighters attack Pakistani and U.S. targets.
In his order, Scola noted that the older Khan was recorded by the FBI talking "openly and brazenly" about raising money to help overthrow the Pakistani government so that strict Islamic law could be imposed. The recordings showed Hafiz Khan praised suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan and the attempt in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square.
"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," Scola wrote of the elder Khan.
Izhar Khan, by contrast, barely appeared on the FBI recordings and never discussed violence. He was involved in two transactions to Pakistan totaling about $1,100 at a time when many Pakistanis living in the U.S. were sending money to family members dealing with Taliban violence in that country's Swat Valley.
The biggest transaction involved Izhar Khan's sister, Amina Khan, who has also been indicted in the U.S. case but remains in Pakistan. Scola noted that there is "ample evidence" she is a Taliban supporter but none that Izhar knew a $900 wire transfer sent to her would be used to support the Islamic fundamentalist group or violence.
The prosecution rested its case prior to Scola's dismissal of charges against the younger Khan, and Hafiz Khan's defense began presenting its evidence. After Thursday the trial is off until next Tuesday.