When Izhar Khan was arrested in May 2011 on terrorism charges, the young imam was beloved by the members of his Margate mosque and was engaged to a woman from Pakistan.
He spent the next 20 months in the Miami Federal Detention Center, mostly in solitary confinement, awaiting the start of his trial earlier this month.
On Thursday, a federal judge threw out the U.S. government’s case charging that Khan aided the Pakistani Taliban terrorist organization in a plot with his father, Miami imam Hafiz Khan. But Izhar Khan, 26, says he’s not angry about his ordeal — even though he lost his home, his savings and his very freedom.
“I don’t have words to describe my joy,” Khan said at his defense attorney’s law office in Coconut Grove, hours after he was released from custody. “I just want to let everyone know that I have no bitter feelings against the government.
“They had to do what they had to do for the safety of our community,” he said, but added that he felt the FBI investigation was “sloppy” even if “justice was served” in the end.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola issued a judgment of acquittal for the Muslim scholar, citing a lack of evidence in the prosecution’s material-support case against him and his father. The case, which drew national media attention, has experienced problems since the indictment was first filed, though it will continue against Khan’s father, the lead defendant on trial.
The judge found that the prosecution, which rested its case Wednesday, failed to prove any wrongdoing by Izhar Khan, imam of Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen Mosque off Sample Road. Scola concluded that the government’s allegations were unfounded that Khan knew that two suspicious fund transfers of $300 and $900 were intended for the Pakistani Taliban, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.
“I do not believe in good conscience that I can allow the case to go forward against Izhar Khan,” Scola ruled from the bench, noting in a written ruling that “this court will not allow the sins of the father to be visited upon the son.” The judge also said from the bench that prosecutors nonetheless “proceeded in this case against Izhar Khan in good faith.”
Scola already denied the father’s bid for an acquittal verdict halfway through the trial, on Wednesday. Scola noted Thursday that the government’s case against the 77-year-old imam of the Flagler Mosque is “overwhelming,” so his lawyer will be putting on a defense. The trial is set to resume Tuesday.
After the judge’s acquittal verdict for Izhar Khan, the defendant hugged defense lawyer Joseph Rosenbaum and members of Khan’s mosque shook each other’s hands, quietly celebrating.
Rosenbaum said the acquittal was a victory not only for his client, but also for the entire Muslim community in South Florida. “I think we went a long way with this acquittal to strengthen their feeling that they are part of this community and they should not live in fear,” he said.
Izhar Khan, a U.S. citizen, left Pakistan for South Florida with his family in the 1990s and developed into a beloved Muslim leader with a keen interest in American culture and sports — including becoming a huge fan of the Miami Heat.