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Pakistani violence detailed in Fla. terror case

  • Article by: CURT ANDERSON
  • Associated Press
  • January 14, 2013 - 3:22 PM

MIAMI - A former Pakistani politician and landowner described beheadings, bombings and attacks on police stations by Taliban militants Monday at the trial of two Muslim clerics accused of financially supporting the terrorist group.

Saifullah Khan, 43, said his name was on a Taliban hit list of officials targeted during the Islamic fundamentalist group's attempt to take control of Pakistan's Swat Valley in 2007. The father of six, who now lives in Philadelphia, was formerly an elected official who helped oversee such things as road and water projects for about 15 villages in the Swat Valley.

Testifying through an interpreter in Pashto, Khan said on one occasion he saw his cousin's beheaded body, "and the blood was still there, fresh." Another time he helped carry a mortally wounded police officer out of a station attacked by Taliban fighters with assault weapons and grenades. He knew people whose homes and businesses were bombed, killing dozens more. His own home was struck by a rocket and shot at, he said.

"The Taliban was harming people. They were shooting at the army. The army would shoot at them. The people in the middle would get hurt," he testified. "I don't have the number, but many times they (Taliban fighters) attacked my house."

The testimony about Taliban violence came in the second week of the trial of Hafiz Khan and one of his sons, Izhar. They are not related to Saifullah Khan but, like Saifullah, have family origins in the Swat Valley, where the surname is common. Hafiz and Izhar Khan are facing conspiracy and terrorism support charges that each carry potential 15-year prison sentences.

Hafiz Khan, 77, is imam at a downtown Miami mosque. Izhar Khan, 26, held the same post at a mosque in suburban Margate.

Prosecutors say they illegally funneled at least $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban between 2008 and 2010. The two men have pleaded not guilty and insist any money they sent to Pakistan was for family members and other innocent purposes.

Saifullah Khan's testimony is aimed at helping prosecutors establish the Taliban's violent nature for the jury. Prosecutors contend most of the money sent by Hafiz and Izhar Khan to Pakistan was intended to help Taliban fighters battling Pakistan's army for control of the Swat Valley.

Saifullah Khan testified that as the violence increased, he met with a top Taliban leader in the Swat Valley at a local madrassa, or Islamic religious school. Saifullah Khan said when he arrived, the leader, Maulana Fazullah, was surrounded by about 60 armed men. Saifullah Khan said he urged Fazullah to stop the shootings and bombings.

Fazullah replied that it wasn't his fault because "the government is not leaving me alone and I will knock down this government," according to Saifullah Khan.

"His appearance was similar to a religious figure, but he was not," Saifullah Khan added.

He also described Fazullah's frequent radio speeches about other Taliban goals, such as banning girls from attending school and urging that all women wear the full-length burqa covering. Fazullah also opposed vaccinating children against polio, arguing it was an un-Islamic practice.

Defense attorneys tried to get Saifullah Khan's testimony suppressed as mostly secondhand information and speculation, but U.S. District Judge Robert Scola refused to block it.

The Pakistani Taliban is linked to al-Qaida and has played roles in several attacks against the U.S., including a December 2009 suicide bombing at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan that killed seven U.S. citizens, prosecutors said. The group also was connected to the attempt in May 2010 by Faisal Shahzad to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square.

In addition, prosecutors say Hafiz Khan founded a madrassa in the Swat Valley that was used by the Taliban to train and indoctrinate children in fighting Americans. The madrassa was shut down in 2009 by the Pakistani army.

The trial is expected to last at least six more weeks.

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