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Florida imam gets 25 years in prison for aiding Pakistani Taliban

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A 78-year-old south Florida imam was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a judge on Friday for funneling more than $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban.

Hafiz Kahn was convicted in March on four counts of providing money and support to the group, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. He had faced a maximum of 60 years in prison, and prosecutors sought a 15-year sentence.

"The seriousness of what he did and the potential harm it could have caused is something this court takes seriously," U.S. District Judge Robert Scola said.

A U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, Khan was the imam at the Flagler Mosque, one of Miami's oldest mosques. He was arrested in 2011 along with two of his sons.

Prosecutors said Khan sent money to family and friends in Pakistan between 2008 and 2010 that was funneled to the Taliban, which they say used some of the funds to buy weapons.

"Mr. Khan took a list of his contacts and his desire to have sharia law in Pakistan and brought his mosque into this effort," said prosecutor John Carlton Shipley Jr. "He brought his family into this effort."

Evidence against the elder Khan included bank records and wiretapped phone calls in which he solicited money and expressed support for Pakistani Taliban efforts to overthrow the Pakistani government and attack Americans.

Khan said the money was intended to help support relatives, war victims and a school he had founded in his hometown in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan.

"Whatever money I sent was for the Islamic faith and to help poor people," Khan said through a translator. "I was never sympathetic to terrorists."

Prosecutors dropped charges against one of Khan's sons last year, citing a lack of evidence. A judge acquitted the other son for the same reason after prosecutors finished presenting their case in court in January.

Khan testified in court that he lied about supporting the Taliban because he wanted a $1 million donation from a purported Taliban sympathizer, a man who was actually an FBI informant.

The Pakistani Taliban was formed by Islamic militants in 2007. The U.S. State Department declared it a foreign terrorist organization three years later.

The group has been connected to a December 2009 suicide bomb attack on a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven people. In 2011 the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that killed more than 80 people in northwestern Pakistan.

(Editing by Kevin Gray, Bernard Orr and Xavier Briand)

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