The head of a Lexington, Ky. mosque and two other men are accused of seeking out a hitman to kill two people the men claimed owed them money.

Mahmoud Shaker Shalash, the 70-year-old imam of the Islamic Center of Lexington, is charged with use of interstate facilities in commission for murder for hire and conspiracy, along with 31-year-old John Sadiqullah and 34-year-old Abdul Hadi. Shalash and Saduqullah appeared in Lexington federal court Thursday and were ordered held pending a May 14 hearing on pretrial detention, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Hadi appeared in court Friday and also was ordered detained until a further hearing.

According to police affidavits filed last week, an informant posing as a hitman initially met with Shalash at a Lexington motel on March 12. Shalash told the informant that a person referred to as “Victim #1” in court filings owed him $80,000 and Shalash wanted his money back.

From left, Mahmoud Shaker Shalash, John Sadiqullah and Abdul Hadi. (Woodford County Jail)

When the informant asked if Shalash wanted Victim #1’s legs broken, Shalash initially said “no.” However, the informant pressed the issue, saying that if he needed to break legs to get the money, “then oh well. I’m dead serious.” According to the affidavit, Shalash initially responded, “All right,” then told the informant, “Do whatever you have to do to get my money back” during a subsequent meeting.

Shalash also introduced the informant to Sadiqullah, who believed that a second person — “Victim #2” in the affidavit — had cheated him in a business deal involving a taxi company, investigators said. Sadiqullah claimed “Victim #2” had sold him and some partners the cab company but had kept the business’ client list and some contracts.

“I want him dead,” Sadiqullah allegedly told the informant, who at one point suggested that Shalash provide a fatwa, or Islamic legal pronouncement, authorizing the killing. Shalash and Sadiqullah agreed with this idea, the affidavits said.

“It’s not about the money. He took more than money from me, Sadiqullah allegedly told the informant about Victim #2. “He took my livelihood. He really destroyed us. If someone could kill him (Victim #2) for $10,000, we all four will pay someone $10,000.”

Investigators said Hadi had a separate business dealing with Victim #2. Hadi gave the man $20,000 for a partnership in a trucking venture. The venture failed and Hadi apparently believed Victim #2 owed him the money back.

At one point, Hadi, Sadiqullah and another man found Victim #2 at his business in Lexington, and Sadiqullah called the informant to ask him to come force Victim #2 to give them money.

The Islamic Center of Lexington posted a statement to its website that read, “Muslims in Lexington are shocked to learn the news about the arrest of Imam Mahmoud Shalash. The situation is unfolding and we do not have enough details at this time. Also, we believe that every American citizen is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

The statement added: “We would like to emphasize that Islam is a religion built on peace and tolerance. Murder or hiring for murder is regarded in the Koran as a grave sin.”

The Herald-Leader reported that Shalash pleaded guilty in 2012 to making more than $238,000 in illegal currency transactions at various Lexington banks. He was sentenced to two years probation and forfeited the money to the federal government.

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