A Canadian immigration consultant convicted of fraud and supporting overseas terrorism was sentenced yesterday to 14 years in prison, years after authorities picked him up in 9/11 sweeps around New York.
Khalid Awan, a Muslim and naturalized Canadian of Pakistani descent, wasn't ultimately convicted of any links to al-Qaeda. Rather, U.S. authorities in the Eastern District of New York used a series of elaborate in-prison stings to establish he supported a terrorist group of another religion, Sikh militants known in India as the Khalistan Commando Force.
U.S. officials alleged the 45-year-old was known during frequent travels to Pakistan as a "silent mujahed," which means holy warrior in Islam - although in this case the suspect was said to be a kind of free-floating radical, with links to Sikh and Muslim extremists, as well as Pakistani intelligence.
A New York jury last year convicted Mr. Awan of lending financial and other forms of support to KCF members who had staged deadly attacks against Indian civilians. This conviction led to the sentence meted yesterday.
He once faced very different allegations. Mr. Awan was first arrested in a New York suburb in October, 2001, and held as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks. FBI officers would later testify an anonymous tip accused Mr. Awan and men he knew of having links to one of the hijackers.
That allegation went nowhere, but the tip led to searches of a property east of New York, which in turn led to Mr. Awan's 2004 conviction on a credit-card fraud conspiracy. Police claimed they unearthed a scheme in which he allegedly stole identity profiles from immigrants who came to him seeking his help getting Canadian citizenship. As Mr. Awan was about to complete his fraud sentence in 2006, U.S. officials laid new charges against him: supporting terrorism.
Mr. Awan placed several calls from jail to The Globe and Mail last summer. He claimed to be the victim of "creative legal theories" and religious profiling. He said he had operated a legitimate immigration business with branches in Pakistan, New York, and Markham, Ont.
"I am not a terrorist, I do not know any terrorists," he said at one point. He also embarked on a letter writing campaign to a host of Canadian officials, urging them to intervene and help prove his innocence.
U.S. officials presented incriminating evidence in court. Mr. Awan was caught on tape calling a leader of the Sikh terrorist group, in India, from prison. And several Sikh witnesses testified against him, including one he had met in jail.
In conversation, Mr. Awan frequently compared himself to Maher Arar, a Canadian once accused of links to terrorism but who has been exonerated by a judge.
Mr. Awan has filed court documents that assert he falsely confessed to crimes because FBI agents threatened him with lethal injection and said that they would have RCMP officers arrest his sisters in Montreal. "I tried to give answers so they would be pleased and not give me the death penalty," Mr. Awan wrote in court documents.