The defense attorney for a Miami imam charged with supporting Pakistani terrorists is asking that people not prejudge the Muslim cleric.
Attorney Khurrum Wahid said Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, the imam at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque, will plead not guilty to charges of providing material support to the Pakistani Taliban.
Khan and one of his sons, Izhar Khan, 24, appeared in Miami federal court Monday for the first time since their indictment was unsealed. Neither entered a plea.
With cameras banned from federal courtrooms, no images were available of Hafiz and Izhar Khan, handcuffed, shackled and wearing prison garb, or the congregants who prayed inside.
"He is Muslim and is charged with terrorism, and we're concerned that the public may have preconceptions," said attorney Khurrum Wahid.
In court, Hafiz Khan used an Urdu translator.
"In regards to the conversations that the feds say that they taped, might this be a case of 'lost in translation?'" Local 10's Glenna Milberg asked.
"There is always that possibility," Wahid said. "I think it's important to understand that, for everybody, at this stage, we don't have any of those conversations."
The younger Khan, the imam at Jamaat Al-Mu'mineen Mosque in Margate, was given time to hire a lawyer. Another son, Irfan Khan, 37, was to appear in Los Angeles federal court Monday.
Three other family members who face charges remain in Pakistan.
Most of what is known about the allegations against the Hafiz Khan and his two sons comes from the indictment released Saturday.
The federal indictment accuses Khan and his two sons, as well as the three family members in Pakistan, of funneling at least $50,000 to aid the Pakistani Taliban and finance a school in Pakistan that teaches children to become terrorists. The arrests were the result of a three-year investigation, and evidence against the suspects includes wiretapped conversations and wire transfers of money to the Middle East, according to the indictment.
The indictment lists phone conversations, alleging Hafiz Khan called for attacks and celebrated assassinations.
Hafiz Khan has been the spiritual leader of the Miami Mosque for more than a decade. Members of the mosque said they were blindsided by the arrests.
Those who know Hafiz Khan said they are sure the collections at the mosque are secure and had not been used in funding the enemy.
"He's a very nice old man and he's very well respected as a gentleman, and the allegations don't seem to be typical for what we would have expected for him," said Asad Ba-Yunus, of the Muslim Communities Association.
Agents waited for prayers to end Saturday before arresting Hafiz Khan. In Margate, federal agents arrested his son, Izhar Khan.
The arrests are drawing international attention. A crew from a Pakistani television station is in South Florida, covering the story.