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Florida imam accused of aiding Pakistani Taliban is acquitted

MIAMI (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday threw out charges against one of two South Florida imams accused of funneling more than $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban, citing a lack of evidence.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola issued a seven-page order acquitting Izhar Khan, a 26-year-old imam at a mosque in Margate, Florida.

"The Court finds that no rational trier of fact could find all the essential elements of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt," Scola wrote.

Khan and his father, Hafiz Khan, the head of one of Miami's oldest mosques, were arrested in May 2011 on charges they conspired to provide money and support for the Pakistani Taliban, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

Izhar Khan was freed from jail after the judge's decision. Charges against another son, who was also arrested at the time, were dropped last year because of insufficient evidence.

The elder Khan still faces four counts of terrorism-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty and if convicted could face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each count.

Scola said in his order that the evidence against Hafiz Kahn is "overwhelming." But he said, "This Court will not allow the sins of the father to be visited upon the son."

Prosecutors say Hafiz Khan conspired to provide money and support for the Pakistani Taliban between 2008 and 2010 and allege some of the funds were eventually used to buy weapons.

They have presented recordings of phone conversations that show Khan seeking to raise money to support the Pakistani Taliban and efforts to violently overthrow the Pakistani government.

Khan "spoke openly and brazenly" about his support, Scola wrote. "He actually did send money to friends and family in Pakistan knowing that the money was going to be directed to support the Pakistani Taliban."

The Pakistani Taliban was formed in 2007 by a group of Islamic militants. 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.

(Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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