MIAMI (AP) - An elderly Muslim cleric charged with supporting Pakistani terrorists will plead not guilty and should not be prejudged simply because of the seriousness of the case, his defense attorney said Monday.
"We only have the government's side. He intends to challenge it," said Khurrum Wahid, attorney for 76-year-old Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan. "I'd ask the public to keep an open mind. I have no question that through this process we're going to vindicate Mr. Khan."
Khan, imam at the Miami Mosque, and his son Izhar Khan, 24, appeared in federal court for the first time since their arrests on charges of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. They are among six people who allegedly worked to funnel at least $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban, which violently opposes Pakistan's government and the U.S., prosecutors said.
Hafiz Khan, with a long, white beard and thick, black-framed glasses, appeared frail as he slowly trudged in handcuffs and chains to the court podium. Khan suffers from a heart condition and other ailments, and will not do well in strict solitary confinement at a downtown Miami detention center, his attorney said. He also speaks very little English, mainly Urdu and Pashto.
"We're very concerned about his health," Wahid said.
The younger Khan, also an imam at a mosque in suburban Margate, was given a week to hire a lawyer after a judge decided he didn't qualify for a public defender. A hearing was set for May 23 on whether either man will be released on bail. The U.S. wants them kept in custody until trial because they are a danger to the community and a flight risk, prosecutor John Shipley said.
Another son, 37-year-old Irfan Khan, was arrested in Los Angeles and was scheduled to appear in court there later Monday. He will eventually be transferred to Miami to stand trial. The three other people indicted in the case, including two other Khan relatives, are believed to be in Pakistan.
Each of the four terrorism support charges against the suspects carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence, according to prosecutors.