Thursday, June 09, 2005

Three more arrests in Lodi terrorism case

U.S. official foresees additional developments before end of week
By Sean Holstege, Michele R. Marcucci, David M. Drucker, STAFF WRITERS
The Argus

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday their investigation of two Lodi men charged with lying to the FBI about involvement in al-Qaida terrorism training camps in Pakistan is widening, with three more arrests.
The FBI arrested Hamid Hayat, 22, and his father, Umer, 47, on Sunday after they failed a polygraph test and later confessed that the younger Lodi man attended training camps in northeast Pakistan, according to a federal affidavit filed Tuesday. Both men are U.S. citizens.

Three Lodi men, all Pakistani, have been arrested sincethe weekend on immigration charges.

According to the FBI affidavit, Hamid Hayat told agents that he attended his grandfather's madrassah religious school and a "jihadist" training camp for six months in 2003 and 2004 near Rawalpindi, a teeming city of 1.4 million people near the Pakistani capital. He described an al-Qaida camp that trained recruits in weapons use, explosives, interior room tactics and hand-to-hand combat, according to the affidavit.

Hamid also confirmed, according to the affidavit, that he was trained on "how to kill Americans," used pictures of President Bush during target practice and requested to return to the United States to attack "hospitals and large food stores."

There are 49 California hospitals and no large food stores on a 2003 state list of terrorist targets obtained by the Oakland Tribune.

Prosecutors downplayed fears of an imminent plot, suggesting Hamid Hayat's testimony is inconsistent with signals from intelligence chatter.

"We do not have information that these or any other sectors in the United States have been primarily targeted or are specifically vulnerable to an attack," FBI Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter said.

"We did not find these guys in the middle of executing an attack. That did not happen," said McGregor Scott, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.

Scott said investigators are "still accumulating evidence." He described the investigation as ongoing and evolving, and he suggested that there would be more developments in the case by the end of the week.

Hamid Hayat, a worker at fruit-packing plant, is due in federal court in Sacramento for a bail hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Nowinski on Friday. Nowinski denied bail to his father, Umer, on grounds that he was a flight risk and a danger to the community. Umer, an ice cream truck driver, admitted giving his son $100 a month to attend the training camps, according to the FBI affidavit.

Two Sacramento area attorneys representing the Hayats did not return calls Wednesday.

Hamid Hayat had been under investigation for an "extended period of time" Slotter said. Agents seized videotapes, photographs, mail, prayer books and a computer.

Hayat was first interviewed by the FBI on May 29 in Japan, when he was trying to return from Pakistan. His name was flagged on a federal "no-fly list" and Korean Airlines Flight 23 from Seoul to San Francisco International Airport was diverted to Tokyo, after about five hours over the Pacific Ocean.

Canadian authorities refused to accept the flight, said a Transportation Security Administration source on condition of anonymity. After being questioned in Japan, Hayat was downgraded to a passenger screening list requiring additional security and was allowed to fly to San Francisco, where he arrived early Monday.

Diverted flights due to red flags in the passenger screening system are rare. A French flight to San Francisco International Airport was diverted about Christmas 2003.

Meanwhile, immigration officials confirmed they detained three men linked to a Lodi mosque one block from the Hayat home. Lodi Muslim Mosque imam Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Adil Khan were arrested on immigration violation charges. Their attorney, Saad Ahmad, said his clients have not violated the terms of their visas.

"These are prominent members of the mosque, religious clergymen. They are very actively involved in interfaith communities," Ahmad said. "These two law-abiding people have been wronged, and we will prove it. There's no terrorism charges."

His clients are being held separately, one in San Jose and the other in Sacramento.

Also Wednesday, Khan's son, Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19, was arrested on immigration violations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the Sacramento Bee.

The only charges against Hamid and Umer Hayat involve providing false statements to the FBI. News of the arrests are hitting hard the Pakistani community in Lodi, which numbered about 700 in the 2000 U.S. Census.

"We're concerned about people rushing to judgment. We really don't know the details. We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out in the courts," said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Sacramento Valley.

A female cousin of Hamid Hayat told the Los Angeles Times that he went to Pakistan with his mother to visit relatives and arrange some marriages.

Another relative, Usama Ismail, 19, told the New York Times the accusations are "total lies," noting that Hamid "did not go to a terrorist training camp."

"Even if they did say that, that's because the FBI made them say what they wanted them to say," Ismail reportedly said.

Still, a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office said the "long-term, ongoing investigation" conducted by the Sacramento Joint Terrorism Task Force involved "several search warrants" in Lodi and involved the mosque. The Sacramento Bee reported that, according to his family, Umer Hayat was wired by the FBI when he met the detained mosque leaders before their arrest.

The mosque has been the cause of a rift in Lodi's Pakistani community.

The mosque run by Ahmed recently sued Khan and other former leaders, claiming they had defrauded it of more than $200,000. According to the lawsuit, the mosque sold 7 acres and gave Khan the proceeds, which he used to set up a new nonprofit, the Farooqia Islamic Center, under his own name. The lawsuit alleges that Khan is in the country illegally.

His attorney, Gary Nelson, called the case "baseless." Financial statements filed with California Secretary of State's Office show that the Farooqia center takes all of its income from contributions and spends one-third of its operating expenses on travel.
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