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Cabbie pleads not guilty to terror charges

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Chicago cab driver accused of trying to help terrorists entered a not guilty plea in court Monday.

Prosecutors say Raja Khan tried to send money to al-Qaida. FBI agents arrested Khan on March 26 as he was driving his cab downtown.

Khan is either a terrorist financier behind the wheel of a Chicago taxi or he is a cab driver with a questionable choice of foreign friends. But only one of those is a federal crime. The government says Khan is dangerous and should be locked up while awaiting trial.

Khan's attorney say that the cabbie has his own political beliefs and friends but that doesn't make him part of al-Qaida.

"I mean, all you read about today is that everyone's a member of al-Qaida," said Thomas Durkin, Raja Khan's lawyer.

Tom Durkin held court with reporters outside court Monday morning after Raja Khan was arraigned on charges that he tried to help fund al-Qaida by donating money to Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani terrorist leader.

Kashmiri opposes Indian control of the disputed territory of Kashmir, something that Durkin says his client - the 57-year-old Chicago cab driver - happens to agree with.

"My client is from Kashmir, he has his own political beliefs about Kashmiri independence, that hasn't become a crime yet in this country, I hope...what I'm challenging is the government's allegation that there was an attempt to send money in support of a foreign terrorist organization, specifically al-Qaida," said

The FBI's chief counter-terrorism agent in Chicago says it is clear that Khan doesn't know confessed Chicago terrorist David Headley who has pleaded guilty to helping plot the Mumbai massacre in November 2008, even though Headley's central Asia terrorist leader was Ilyas Kashmiri.

"Certainly from what we've seen Khan and Headley do not know each other but the common link is Kashmiri who is a Pakistani overseas who has pledged to be part of an al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden's network," said Robert Holley, FBI counter-terrorism agent.

"I don't think it's a crime to know people, I hope not yet, because otherwise I know you and they might come to arrest me," said Durkin.

Khan's wife was in court Monday with his son, but neither spoke to reporters. She is also a cab driver who has spoken out in the past against violence against taxi drivers, interestingly, once a few years ago when her now accused husband was off to the side.

Some Chicago cabbies came to court Monday to support Raja Khan.

"Cab drivers in every city are disrespected and we become an easy target for a lot of things, and I think that most guys are hard working family members," said Bill Burns, cab driver.

U.S. prosecutors told Judge James Zagel that they want Khan held while awaiting trial. But Mr. Khan's attorney says his client is no danger to the public nor a flight risk. The lawyer says he is putting together a plan for Khan's release on bond.

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