Monday, May 16, 2011

Jihad Miami Style

Hafiz and sons

The FBI has arrested two South Florida imams and a third family member, charging them with supporting the Pakistani Taliban. Three relatives of the arrested men are also indicted on the same charges in Pakistan. While the officials stress that the arrests are not linked to the killing of Osama bin Laden, the leaders of American Muslims express concerns that the case may heighten anti-Islamic prejudices in society. In the wake of bin Laden’s eradication, the American authorities are facing a challenging task – to adequately respond to the growing threat of a terrorist retaliation and, at the same time, to avoid spreading panic and hysteria in society.

Hafiz Khan
 Hafiz Khan, the imam at the Flagler Mosque in Miami and his son Izhar Khan, an imam at the Jamaat Al-Mu'mineen Mosque in Margate, were arrested by FBI agents in Florida on Sunday. One other son of Hafiz Khan, Irfan Khan, was arrested in Los Angeles. Meanwhile three more Khan’s family members, including his daughter and grandson, are wanted in Pakistan.

The defendants are accused of providing material support to a conspiracy to kill, injure and kidnap people abroad. FBI officials also claim that all six were connected to the Pakistani Taliban. The officials drew special attention t the fact that the arrests were not linked to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Instead, the charges relate to criminal activity carried out by the defendants between 2008 and 2010. The attention of the federal authorities was drawn by a large number of financial transactions between the imams and Pakistan. 

"Despite being an imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace. Instead, as today's charges show, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming," said U.S. Attorney Wilfredo A. Ferrer. "But for law enforcement intervention, these defendants would have continued to transfer funds to Pakistan to finance the Pakistani Taliban, including its purchase of guns."

According to the court documents, the three-and-a-half-year investigation saw the authorities collect numerous pieces of evidence of the defendants’ criminal activity, including several conversations between Hafiz Khan and his relatives, concerning possible attacks against the Pakistani government and the ways to deliver funds to the Pakistani Taliban.

"Khan solicited and distributed funds for the Pakistani Taliban, both personally and on behalf of others, and worked with the co-defendants and others to support the Pakistani Taliban's jihad," the indictment states.

The federal agents also claim that the investigation is still continuing as the authorities are aware of several unindicted co-conspirators located in the United States and in Pakistan.

The news about charges against the imams has already fueled the escalation tension both within the Muslim community and with the rest of the local population. The religious leaders of the Florida Muslims express concerns that the arrest of the Khans may heighten prejudices against the whole community.

"I would like everyone to know that Masjid Jamaat Al-Mu'mineen does not support terrorism, for this is forbidden in Islam. The Koran clearly tells us do not spread corruption on Earth," said Yazid Ali, president of the Jamaat Al-Mu'mineen Mosque in Margate, Florida.

His concerns couldn’t be described as totally groundless. The mosque has already started to receive threats, so the police had to provide additional security to the site.

At the same time, the Florida Muslims who used to attend Khan’s mosque express their surprise at the arrest, saying they’ve never heard any hate propaganda from their spiritual leader.

Despite the hopes of many, the death of bin Laden doesn’t mean the end of the war on terror. The problem goes beyond promises of retaliation from al-Qaeda. The case of the US imams, as well as the recent arrest of New York Islamists who had been planning an attack on a synagogue, demonstrates that the threat of American home-grown terrorism keeps rising. The American authorities now have to find a solution to a difficult problem – how to provide national security and, at the same time, avoid the stirring social unrest and escalating hostility between religious communities.

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