Terrorism trial postponed after failure of Internet video link between Pakistan, Miami

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

The mystery of who pulled the plug on the Internet connection linking witnesses testifying in Pakistan to a Miami terrorism trial remained unsolved Wednesday, stalling the high-profile proceeding until next Tuesday as defense lawyers scramble for a solution.

A defense attorney for Miami imam Hafiz Khan, standing trial on charges of financially supporting the Pakistani Taliban, told a federal judge by phone from Pakistan that the Pakistan government’s foreign and interior ministries did not even know that the live video feed was cut off to Miami Tuesday morning.

A federal prosecutor said his office contacted an FBI legal attaché in Islamabad, and the official checked with several Pakistani government agencies and the staff at the hotel where the testimony was taken earlier this week. No one had a clue about the mysterious shutdown — whether it was a technical glitch, or the secret work of the Pakistan government or some other entity.

Prosecutor John Shipley accused defense attorney Khurrum Wahid of trying to orchestrate the live testimony at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad “under the radar screen” of the Pakistan government — an accusation strongly denied by Wahid.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, clearly exasperated by the high-tech failure 8,000 miles away, gave Wahid an ultimatum that must be met by Friday. Wahid could take the testimony of 10 remaining witnesses in a third country, such as the United Arab Emirates, as long as he could obtain travel visas for them and resume the testimony by next Tuesday. If not, the judge said, Wahid must return home over the holiday weekend to resume his defense in Miami.

“One way or the other, that’s the last accommodation I’m making,” Scola told Wahid.

A moment later, the judge told the 12 jurors: “We still don’t have any transmission from Pakistan. We are trying to make alternate arrangements.”

Khan, 77, is standing trial on charges of sending thousands of dollars to the Taliban terrorist organization, sworn enemies of the U.S. and Pakistan governments. Khan was the leader of the Flagler Mosque, 7350 NW Third St. in Miami.

Despite safety concerns, the judge had allowed Khan’s defense attorney to travel to Pakistan to take live testimony from 11 witnesses so the defendant could receive a fair trial. Prosecutors opposed allowing the testimony, and refused to make the trip.

Everything seemed to be going well until about 11:20 a.m., or 9:20 p.m. Tuesday in Islamabad. The flat-screen televisions and video monitors in front of the judge, lawyers and jurors in Miami suddenly lost the signal and flashed “disconnected.”

The potential loss of future defense testimony in Pakistan or another country could affect the outcome of Khan’s trial. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years on each of four charges alleging material support for the Taliban.

Two of Khan’s sons, including an imam from Broward, were charged in the same case. But prosecutors dropped the charges against one, and the judge dismissed them against the other for lack of evidence.

Read more Afternoon Update stories from the Miami Herald

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