Florida imam sentenced to 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 faced a maximum of 60 years in prison and prosecutors sought a 15-year sentence.

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 and some of the funds were used to buy weapons.

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, however, 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.

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 paid by the government.

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 attack on a U.S. 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.

(Editing by Kevin Gray, Bernard Orr)