Eight men kneeled in prayers led by their imam, Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, when a loud pounding shook the locked door of the mosque, a modest house behind a green fence in a residential neighborhood in west Miami-Dade County.
It was just after 6 a.m. Saturday, and dozens of heavily armed federal agents and police had the place surrounded.
"Open up! Police!" they shouted.
Minutes later the bearded, 76-year-old Khan was placed in handcuffs. He and two of his four sons – one in Margate and another picked up in Los Angeles – were under arrest, charged with funneling money to the Pakistani Taliban in what federal agents said was a long-running conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas in support of a foreign terrorist organization.
One of the imam's sons, Izhar Khan, a 24-year-old North Lauderdale resident, was arrested in the parking lot of the Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen mosque in Margate, where he is imam, just before the 6 a.m. prayer.
Agents also seized computers from the mosque office.
The other son, Miami resident Irfan Khan, 37, was awakened by agents at a hotel in Los Angeles at 3 a.m. Pacific time and taken into custody there.
All three men are American citizens who are originally from Pakistan, authorities said.
"Despite being an imam, or spiritual leader, Hafiz Khan was by no means a man of peace,'' said U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. "Instead, as today's charges show, he acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming."
Three others named in the indictment remain at large in Pakistan. They were identified as Ali Rehman, also known as Faisal Ali Rehman; Amina Khan, also known as Amina Bibi, who is the daughter of Hafiz Khan; and her son, Alam Zeb, Khan's grandson.
Prosecutors said there is no link between today's arrests and the recent death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban is closely allied with al-Qaida and believed to be responsible for recent attacks against police and military targets in that country. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the suicide attack in northwestern Pakistan on Friday that killed 87 cadets from a government paramilitary force, according to Pakistani officials.
The group has also been linked to the Times Square car bombing attempt in New York in May 2010.
Family and friends of the Khans were shocked by the arrests.
"None of my family supports the Taliban," said Ikram Khan, 40, another of Khan's sons, who arrived at the Miami mosque Saturday morning in the blue taxi van he drives from a base at Miami International Airport. "We support this country."
Arif Baig, 50, also a native of Pakistan, said the allegations were unbelievable.
"There is not even a 1 percent chance that he would do this," said Baig, who runs a Little Havana convenience store.
Shameem Akhtar, 69, who was inside the mosque when the raid took place, said that after a nervous worshipper broke his prayer contrary to Muslim tradition and responded to the pounding on the door, those inside were confronted by 25 to 30 heavily armed law enforcement officers.
After a respectful pause in which agents allowed the prayer to end -- and removed their shoes Khan stepped outside the mosque, at 7350 NW Third St., and was handcuffed.
Hafiz Khan and Izhar Khan are expected to appear in federal court in Miami on Monday. Irfan Khan is expected to make his initial appearance in Los Angeles.
If convicted, each faces a potential 15 years in prison for each count of the indictment.
Yazid Ali, the board president of the Margate mosque, said those who know Izhar Khan were "very surprised" by news of his arrest.
"We are in full cooperation with all of the authorities involved in this case," he said. "We would like everyone to know that Margate mosque Al does not support terrorism, for this is a forbidden act in Islam."
Mosque secretary Fazal Deen said, "I never, ever heard anything that came close to militancy from him."
The indictment does not charge the mosques themselves with any wrongdoing. The U.S. Attorney's Office said they are charging the individual defendants based on their support to terrorism, not on their religious beliefs or teachings.
The indictment accuses the six of working to displace Pakistan's government and to establish strict Islamic law.
"Some of this money was used for the purchase of guns and weapons," said Ferrer. "But again, I reiterate, that's just the tip of the iceberg. We will be able to prove that there is more than $50,000 that went to the Taliban."
The three Khans allegedly allegedly sent money from the United States to supporters of the Pakistani Taliban using bank accounts and wire transfer services here and in Pakistan.
According to the indictment, these funds were intended to purchase guns for the Pakistani Taliban, to help militants and their families.
In addition, the indictment alleges the elder Khan supported the Pakistani Taliban through an Islamic school that he founded in the Swat region of Pakistan. Khan allegedly used the school to provide shelter for the Pakistani Taliban and has sent children from his school to learn to kill Americans in Afghanistan.
Law enforcement agents recorded a phone call in July 2009 in which the elder Khan called for an attack on the Pakistani Assembly that would resemble the September 2008 suicide bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan.
On another occasion in September 2010, agents recorded a conversation in which Hafiz Khan stated that he would provide that individual with contact information for Pakistani Taliban militants in Karachi. Upon hearing that mujahideen in Afghanistan had killed seven American soldiers, he declared his wish that God kill 50,000 more, according to prosecutors.
The investigation was undertaken by the FBI in conjunction with the Joint Terrorism Task Force based on a review of suspicious financial transactions and other evidence.
Federal officials said the probe started three years ago when transactions were flagged and grew to involve wiretaps and eavesdroppings.
According to the allegations, from about 2008 through November 2010, the six provided money, financial services and other support to the Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban, according to the FBI, is a Pakistan-based terrorist organization formed in December 2007 by an alliance of radical Islamist militants.
The U.S. government says the Pakistani Taliban has links to both al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"Today terrorists have lost another funding source to use against innocent people and U.S. interests," said John V. Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI's Miami office. "We will not allow this country to be used as a base for funding and recruiting terrorists."
Hafiz Khan lives across the street from the Miami mosque, also known as the Flagler mosque because of its location three blocks north of Flagler Street, just east of the Palmetto Expressway.
In a small apartment tucked behind a nondescript house, Hafiz Khan's wife answered the door Saturday and indicated she did not speak English or Spanish and could not comment.
Neighbors said he and his wife had lived there for many years, but had little contact with other residents.
"I'd see him go back and forth across the street, but we never spoke," said Jorge Lopez, 30.
Musa Kebir, 51, a construction worker and native of Algeria who was also in morning prayers when agents arrived, said he was alarmed by the commotion at the mosque door, but continued with his prayer.
"I had no idea what was going on," said Kebir. "But we are trained to focus. So that is what I did."
Assisting the FBI in the investigation and arrests were U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of State, Broward Sheriff's Office, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and police from Miami-Dade County, Miami, Miramar and Margate, along with the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Staff writers Scott Wyman, James B. Davis and Barbara Hijek contributed to this report. email@example.comCopyright © 2015, CT Now