Wiretaps snared money man
Published: Friday, September 21, 2007
Khalid Awan had a reputation as an international man of mystery.
Born in Pakistan on Jan. 15, 1962, he later immigrated to Canada where he opened an immigration consulting business near Toronto. He carried a card saying he was a member of the Karachi Bar Association.
He expanded into the U.S., spending much of his time in New York, though maintaining contact with his sisters in Montreal.
Awan's legal woes across the 49th parallel began when he was arrested after 9/11 for federal credit card fraud charges.
While incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, he chatted up fellow prisoners about his close ties to the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) and in particular Paramjit Singh Panjwar, who is one of India's 10 most wanted fugitives.
He tried to recruit one of those men into the group, urging him to make contact with Panjwar once he was out of jail.
But the would-be recruit went to police instead and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force launched a probe in 2003. Awan was captured on wiretaps talking about his support for the terrorist group. He even called Panjwar in Pakistan from the detention centre.
Other New York fundraisers for the Khalistan group cooperated with police and testified against Awan.
They all said they would collect thousands of dollars and then give it to Awan to send to Pakistan. They knew it was to be used for “the KCF's ongoing attacks in India, including bombings of buildings and bridges in Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.”
After money arrived in Pakistan, Panjwar would call the U.S. and confirm its receipt. He described Awan to one of the witnesses as “a good friend” and “trustworthy.”
“At one meeting, Awan showed photographs of himself and Panjwar and explained that he and Panjwar were very good friends.”
Snapshots seized from Awan's Garden City, N.Y., residence were entered as exhibits at his trial, showing Panjwar sitting cross-legged on the floor in Pakistan, flanked by supporters, sharing biscuits and a cup of tea.
The indiscreet Canadian recounted dinners he had with Panjwar and members of Pakistan's Intelligence Service, known as the ISI, which has long supported Sikh separatist groups.
“According to Awan, at one of the meetings an ISI colonel praised Awan for his work, calling him a 'silent mujahid' or silent warrior,” the court document says.
“Awan also explained that in addition to KCF leader Panjwar and Pakistani ISI officers, these meetings included Ameer Ul-Azeem, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islam, a fundamentalist political party.”
Awan also sent another man to travel with him to Pakistan “to meet Panjwar and receive military training in weapons and explosives at a KCF training camp.”
The court heard that while Awan is Muslim, he worked with Sikh separatists because destabilizing India would help the Pakistani cause in the disputed state of Kashmir.
While much of the case built against Awan came from his indiscreet phone calls and associates who cooperated with police, the 45-year-old provided some of the most damning evidence against himself in a February 2006 interview with U.S. agents.
“Awan told the agents that he had transferred $60,000 to $70,000 (to Panjwar),” the court was told. “Awan said he knew the money 'was going to be used for bad things' which Awan described as 'shooting and killing of innocent people . . . in India.'
“Awan told agents that he was friends with Panjwar because Panjwar was a terrorist. He also said that he knew the KCF killed people in India and described the methods that the KCF used to smuggle terrorists into India to conduct the attacks.”