MIAMI – Testifying via video from Pakistan, a man accused by the U.S. of conspiring with an elderly Miami-based Muslim cleric to funnel thousands of dollars to Taliban terrorists insisted Monday the money was for innocent purposes, including a potato chip factory run by the cleric's son-in-law.
Ali Rehman was the first of as many as 11 witnesses expected to testify from an Islamabad hotel in defense of 77-year-old Hafiz Khan, who faces four terrorism support and conspiracy counts. Rehman is named in the same indictment and refused to come to the U.S. Other witnesses were unable to get U.S. visas in time.
Rehman said he handled three separate $10,000 transactions for Khan in 2008 and 2009. Most of the money, he testified, went to Anayat Ullah, who is married to Khan's daughter Husna and started the potato chip business with his father-in-law as an investor. Rehman said he has known Ullah since they were children in Pakistan's Swat Valley and wanted to do him a favor.
"That favor was that his father was sending him some money, and I used to deliver it to him or sent it to him," said Rehman.
He spoke in Pashto that was translated into English for the 12-person jury watching him on flat-screen televisions.
Rehman kept a three-page ledger detailing most of the transactions, which jurors were shown. "I was just the middle man to give the money to him."
Ullah also used his father's money to buy a vehicle for the factory and to buy a house, Rehman said.
Rehman said he and Khan disagreed with the Taliban's tactics of using violence and force to impose their version of Muslim law. Rehman said he was personally threatened by Taliban fighters who ordered him to remove products containing women's pictures from a cosmetics store he owns.
"They came to my store one day and said, 'You should remove these pictures.' They also slapped me," he said. "They said, 'If you continue to sell this, it will not be good for you.'"
Rehman said he kept putting the Taliban off and eventually they stopped coming around.
Jurors were also played tape of an intercepted phone call between Rehman and Khan in which they are discussing financing of a road widening project. Khan suggested at one point that Rehman sell some trees he had cut down to help cover the cost.
"Hafiz was talking about the needy people. He was always concerned about them," Rehman said.
Prosecutors earlier in the trial played intercepted conversations in which Khan is heard praising use of violence and citing specific attacks carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, including some in which U.S. citizens were killed. They also introduced evidence showing the Pakistani government shut down a religious school, or madrassa, owned by Khan because the Taliban were purportedly using it to indoctrinate children.
If convicted, Khan faces up to 15 years in prison on each of four charges. Two of Khan's sons were originally accused as well, but prosecutors dropped the charges against one and U.S. District Judge Robert Scola dismissed the case against the other for lack of evidence.
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