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Pakistani from NY accused of aiding Sikh militants

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) Federal prosecutors said a Pakistani living in New York wired money and tried to send foot soldiers to a Sikh militant organization aimed at violently forcing India's government into letting the group form its own state.

Khalid Awan knew the 25,000 dollars that two Sikh businessmen gave him to transfer to a Khalistan Commando Force leader in 2001 ''was for bad things and that innocent people would die,'' federal prosecutor Lawrence Ferazani said yesterday.

Ferazani spoke in Brooklyn federal court during opening arguments of Awan's trial on counts of providing material support or resources to terrorists, conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists and money laundering to promote terrorism.

If convicted on all counts, Awan faces a maximum of 55 years in prison.

Awan was detained shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks as a material witness. While in prison, Ferazani said Awan recruited fellow inmate Harjit Singh to join the Khalistan Commando Force by introducing him to leader Paramjit Singh Panjwar through phone calls from the prison.

Awan's lawyer, Khurrum Wahid, said his client was ''guilty by association'' because he had invited Panjwar to his sister's wedding on a visit to Lahore.

''They didn't have a criminal relationship, they had a completely personal relationship,'' Wahid said, adding that Awan transferred the money from a US bank account to a Pakistani account that were both in his name.

Wahid said once Singh learned Awan was a friend of Panjwar that he went to federal authorities and became a confidential informant, seeking to reduce his jail time for a credit card scam.

''He agreed to follow the government's direction in creating evidence against Mr Awan,'' Wahid said. ''He asked Awan to call Panjwar to try to get him to admit that he's the head of the Khalistan Commando Force and to get Awan to admit that he gave him money for violence against India.'' REUTERS SHB BD1103

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