Florida imam accused of aiding Pakistani Taliban acquitted
MIAMI (Reuters) - A US federal judge on Thursday threw out charges against one of two South Florida imams accused of funneling more than $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban, citing a lack of evidence.US District Judge Robert Scola issued a seven-page order acquitting Izhar Khan, a 26-year-old imam at a mosque in Margate, Florida. "The court finds that no rational trier of fact could find all the essential elements of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt," Scola wrote.Khan and his father, Hafiz Khan, the head of one of Miami's oldest mosques, were arrested in May 2011 on charges they conspired to provide money and support for the Pakistani Taliban, which the United States considers a terrorist organisation.Izhar Khan was freed from jail after the judge's decision. Charges against another son, who was also arrested at the time, were dropped last year because of insufficient evidence. The elder Khan still faces four counts of terrorism-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty and if convicted could face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each count.Scola said in his order that the evidence against Hafiz Kahn is "overwhelming." But he said, "This court will not allow the sins of the father to be visited upon the son."Prosecutors say Hafiz Khan conspired to provide money and support for the Pakistani Taliban between 2008 and 2010 and allege some of the funds were eventually used to buy weapons.They have presented recordings of phone conversations that show Khan seeking to raise money to support the Pakistani Taliban and efforts to violently overthrow the Pakistani government.Khan "spoke openly and brazenly" about his support, Scola wrote. "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."The Pakistani Taliban was formed in 2007 by a group of Islamic militants. The US State Department declared it a foreign terrorist organisation three years later.The group has been connected to a December 2009 suicide attack on a US military base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven people. In 2011, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for suicide attacks that killed more than 80 people in northwestern Pakistan.Meanwhile, another US judge sentenced a Pakistani-born Chicago businessman on Thursday to 14 years in prison for providing support to an Islamic militant group blamed for the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.Tahawwur Rana, 52, a former Pakistani Army doctor with Canadian citizenship, had also been found guilty in June 2011 of conspiring to attack a Danish newspaper, a plot hatched by the militant group that was never carried out.Judge Harry Leinenweber said he received many letters from family members, friends and others testifying that Rana was an "intelligent man willing to provide assistance in a good way to many, many people.""What is puzzling... is how this kind of person could get sucked into a dastardly plot," Leinenweber said at the sentencing hearing.Rana had been found guilty of providing support to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for orchestrating 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. He was not found to be complicit in the attacks.In the trial, the key witness - Rana's childhood friend, David Headley - implicated Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, in the Mumbai attack.Headley pleaded guilty to scouting targets for the Mumbai attackers sent by Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the US State Department has designated a terrorist organization. Headley, an American with a Pakistani father, is due to be sentenced on January 24.The plot to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was meant as retaliation for the paper's decision in 2005 to publish sacrilegious content. The conspirators discussed beheading employees of the paper.Prosecutor Daniel Collins argued during the sentencing hearing that a harsh sentence was necessary because of the violent nature of the plot and that Rana was aware of what Lashkar represented."He knew they had blood on their hands and it didn't give him pause for a moment and he helped them," Collins said.Rana's lawyer argued that the businessman had suffered a heart attack in prison and was in generally poor health, adding that he was unlikely to represent a danger to society."He is a good man and got sucked into something," Patrick Blegen said in court. "But there's no risk that he'll do it again, none."Rana, who faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, sat quietly throughout the hearing and declined to address the judge prior to sentencing. Rana's defense team plans to appeal his conviction, and said they would discuss whether to appeal the sentence.