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Chicago cabdriver sentenced to prison for donation to terrorist group in his native Pakistan

Published: Monday, June 11, 2012 12:29 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (MCT) — A Chicago cabdriver who gave a few hundred dollars to a nationalist group in his native Pakistan was sentenced Friday to seven and a half years in federal prison.

Raja Lahrasib Khan, 58, apologized for funneling cash to a Kashmir separatist leader who was allied with al-Qaida.

"Chicago is my home. I have made a good life here. I have spent more time here than in my home country," said Khan, a native of the Kashmir region who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s and became a naturalized citizen in 1988. "A couple of years back, I made a bad decision. ... I did something of which I am ashamed and I deeply regret."

Khan pleaded guilty in February to a single count of providing material assistance to a foreign terrorist organization, admitting that in 2010 he took money from an undercover FBI agent with the intent to deliver $700 of the cash to Ilyas Kashmiri, a separatist leader linked to the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

In 2008 Khan met Kashmiri while visiting Pakistan and gave him about $200. He passed on an additional $300 the next year.

Friends and family described Khan as a caring, generous man, but U.S. District Judge James Zagel noted that those traits became "toxic altruism" when he chose to help Kashmiri, who was reportedly killed last year in Pakistan.

"Maybe it doesn't make much difference if he wants to give Jack the Ripper a knife," Zagel said. "But it does make a difference if he does have some idea who Jack the Ripper is ... and what he wants to do with it."

Khan never intended to support attacks on the U.S. but did want to support the cause of independence for his native Kashmir, said Thomas Anthony Durkin, Khan's attorney. But Khan pleaded guilty because he risked a far longer sentence if he went to trial.

"(Terrorism) cases are very difficult to try," Durkin said outside the courtroom. "I don't think there was ever any evidence he intended to hurt the United States. There was imprudent talk, but I think it was just talk."

"There is no doubt Mr. Khan was supportive (of) Kashmir separatist groups," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Veatch told the judge. "You can't tell a terrorist ... that I want this money to go to a school. You can't contribute any amount of money to a terrorist organization."

©2012 Chicago Tribune

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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