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Chicago cabbie gets 7 ½ years in terrorism case

In this courtroom drawing RajLahrasib Kahn 56 appears before U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine SoBrown federal court  Tuesday March 30

In this courtroom drawing Raja Lahrasib Kahn, 56, appears before U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown in federal court, Tuesday, March 30, 2010, in Chicago. Raja Lahrasib Kahn, a Chicago cabbie charged with attempting to send money to a Pakistan-based terrorist with alleged ties to al Qaida, was ordered held without bond Tuesday. Khan is charged with attempting to provide material aid to terrorism by sending cash to Pakistan-based terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri. (AP Photo/Verna Sadock)

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Updated: July 10, 2012 6:05AM

He had already sent about $550 to Pakistan and was trying to send another $1,000.

U.S. prosecutors though say it wasn’t the amount of money that a 58-year-old Chicago cab driver was trying to send overseas — it was to whom he was trying to deliver it.

On Friday, Raja Khan — whose conversations were recorded from inside of his Chicago cab — was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison and a lifetime of supervision for providing and attempting to provide money to the late terror leader Illyas Kashmiri.

“The importance of this is it is unlawful to give any amount of money to a terrorist group,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Veatch. “They don’t have to be large to be beneficial to a terror organization.”

That’s because, Veatch said, a terrorist group has no legitimate source of funds, so it needs every bit it is provided.

Khan is a Pakistani national who became a U.S. Citizen.

His attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, had argued that Khan began supporting Kashmiri before he was deemed to be an al-Qaida operative. Khan was from a village within the Azad Kashmir region of Pakistan and identified with Kashmiri as a freedom fighter from the disputed territories.

“I think it’s a very draconian charge that imposes almost strict liability on contributions, regardless of the purpose,” said Durkin. Durkin called the 7 ½ year sentence among the shortest terms handed out to a defendant charged with providing material support to terrorism.

Khan had pleaded guilty and his deal called for a term of five to eight years.

Khan admitted had met Kashmiri twice, once in the early 2000s and once in 2008. By the second time, prosecutors argued, Khan was aware Kashmiri’s position within al-Qaida as well as his close ties to Osama bin Laden.

“Despite all of his knowledge regarding Kashmiri and Kashmiri’s relationship with [Osama] bin Laden and affiliation to al Qaeda, as well as regarding al Qaeda’s commission of horrific terrorist attacks against the United States, defendant still provided and attempted to provide money to Kashmiri on three occasions,” prosecutors recently wrote.

Khan was arrested after he received $1,000 from an undercover FBI agent and had intended to pass it on to Kashmiri.

In charging papers, the government said Khan had been secretly recorded while inside his taxi cab. The government did not say how he was recorded.

“I love that Osama bin Laden, he says the last fifty years we have been, you know, tasting ... now America will taste that,” Khan had told the undercover FBI agent.

The agent pretended he was interested in sending money to Kashmiri to purchase weapons and ammunition — only if Kashmiri was working with al-Qaida and was interested in sending individuals into Pakistan to receive military-style and other training so that they could conduct attacks against U.S. forces and interests. Kashmiri was recently killed in a drone attack.

In handing down the 90-month sentence, U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Khan had displayed “toxic altruism.”

Khan lived in the Chicago area for 25 years, along with his two adult children. Khan was not legally married but referred to a wife whom he married in an Islamic ceremony.

Khan’s son wrote a letter to Zagel, summarizing his father’s character: “[w]hen someone is in need, he will help them without them asking.”

Stephen I. Vladeck, professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, said the sentence was one of the shortest handed out for similar convictions, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“At the same time, there have been a few cases under the statute where juries have returned verdicts far shorter than the government asked for — sentences that suggest sympathy for one of the chief criticisms of the law, i.e., that it imposes punishment far in excess of the actual crime these defendants are committing.”

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