Stunned at Lodi Arrests
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
|FBI agent Keith
||Usama Ismail, the
cousin of Hamid
Hayat speaks at his home in Lodi about his cousin who
lives a few houses away
A member of the Lodi Muslim community leaves the Mosque
Pakistani community in the
farming city of Lodi, CA, was stunned when FBI last week
arrested two Pakistani Americans and three Pakistani nationals
for allegedly operating an Al Qaeda cell in the city.
One of the men arrested, 22-year Hamid Hayat, is accused
in a FBI criminal complaint of training in an Al Qaeda camp
in Pakistan to learn “how to kill Americans”
and then lying to FBI agents about it. His father, 47-year
Umer Hayat, is charged in the complaint with lying about
his son’s involvement and his own financing of the
Al Qaeda camp.
Meanwhile, two Pakistani nationals, Shabbir Ahmed, imam
of the Lodi Mosque, and Mohammad Adil Khan, a former Imam
of the mosque, were arrested on June 6 on the charge of
immigration violations. Next day Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19,
son of Mohammad Khan, was also arrested on immigration violations.
FBI agents searched Shabbir Ahmed’s house, next door
to the mosque, and another house about four blocks away
from the mosque. The family whose residence was searched
had just returned from a four-month stay in Pakistan.
The arrest of Pakistanis has caused panic in the Pakistani
community in Lodi which has the largest concentration of
Pakistanis in any US city. About seven percent of Lodi’s
60,000 population is of Pakistani origin, according to some
estimates. The FBI also questioned a number other Pakistanis
and Muslims in Bail Denied
On June 10, Judge Peter A.
Nowinski denied bail to Hamid Hayat, because he is considered
both a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Hayat's attorney, Wazhma Mojaddidi, reminded the judge that
her client was born in Stockton, California, and has significant
ties to the community of the city of Lodi. He lives there,
she said, with his father, mother, brothers and sisters.
She pointed out that he is charged only with lying to FBI
agents, which is normally a bail-ble offense. He has also
surrendered his passport.
Assistant U. Attorney R. Steven Lapham, disputed Mojaddidi's
statement that Hayat has close ties to the community. The
prosecutor said he has traveled to Pakistan a number of
times in his 22 years. He said Hayat stopped going to school
in this country after the sixth grade, and "has little
chance of getting a job that would support him."
Mojaddidi acknowledged that Hayat has a wife and an extended
family in (Attock) Pakistan, and that the family recently
built a new home there. She said the family traveled to
Pakistan on one occasion to seek medical treatment for the
The ice cream truck that Umer
Hayat drove for work is parked at his home in Lodi
As a teenager, Hamid Hayat
lived in Pakistan and attended a madrassah, or religious
training school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, that was operated
by Umer Hayat's father-in-law, according to an FBI affidavit.
His father said that's where he was drawn to jihadist training
camps, the document said.
"We believe they have been painted, based on the affidavit,
as terrorists ... but they have not been charged with that,"
Umer Hayat's attorney, Johnny Griffin III, told reporters
outside court. "They are only charged with one thing,
and that one thing is making a false statement to the government."
The Los Angeles Times reported on June 10 that the FBI apparently
gave the media a different, far more damaging version of
an affidavit against the accused with lying to federal officials
than the one that was finally given to a court in Sacramento
The affidavit filed Thursday did not contain any of the
sensation material from earlier in the week which said the
son's "potential terrorist targets included hospitals
and groceries, and contained names of key individuals and
statements about the international origins of 'hundreds'
of participants in alleged Al Qaeda terrorist training camps
Attorneys for the two men now say they will challenge the
government on this discrepancy, which they say as a deliberate
move by the FBI to prejudice the case against their clients.
Defense attorney Johnny Griffin III, who represents the
father, Umer Hayat, accused the government of "releasing
information it knew it could not authenticate." The
FBI said the different versions were the result of "unfortunate
oversight due to miscommunication."
Meanwhile, the FBI agents continued to fan across Lodi which
suddenly became the spotlight of a high-profile terrorism
probe, drawing sharp rebuke from some leaders of the Muslim
community who say the FBI is spreading fear with aggressive
Lodi Mayor John Beckman and other city officials met with
representatives of the Lodi Mosque seeking to ease mounting
tensions. "Today, the challenge of balancing freedom
and security has been brought to us on a national level,"
William Youmans, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, a leading Muslim civil rights organization, objected
to how the FBI is following leads in Lodi. He said agents
have agitated the community by questioning high-profile
members and others at random. He also said some Muslims
were forced to take polygraph tests.
Basim Elkarra, executive director of the council's Sacramento
Valley chapter, said the FBI has harassed many people over
the past few days in the Pakistani community.
Samina Faheem Sundas, Executive Director of American Muslim
Voice, who was contacted by many TV, Radio and print media
people to comment on the Lodi arrests, appealed to fellow
Americans not to rush to make a judgment about their Muslim
brothers and sisters. “If you read beyond the headlines,
these people have been detained for lying to the FBI and
minor immigration violations. At this point these are only
allegations and under the law of our great land we must
treat them as innocent until proven guilty,” Samina
On the arrests of the two Imams, Youmans said this leaves
everyone thinking if two well-respected people can be detained,
anybody can be detained and the whole community feels under
Saad Ahmad, the lawyer for the two imams, said the men were
innocent of any wrongdoing, describing them as "law
abiding" and "decent hard-working people."
He said Mr. Khan and Mr. Ahmed were granted entry to the
United States to work as imams but said law enforcement
officials accused them of violating their visas because
they "did not perform their duties as an imam."
"I really believe they don't have anything on these
guys," said Ahmad, an immigration lawyer.
Usama Ismail, a relative of Umer Hayat, said the accusations
were "total lies." Ismail said the statements
in the affidavit attributed to Hamid Hayat must have been
coerced from him "after hours and hours of interrogation."
"He did not go to a terrorist training camp,"
said Mr. Ismail, who lives on the same block as the two
men and whose mother is Umer Hayat's sister. "Even
if they did say that, that's because the FBI made them say
what they wanted them to say."
Ismail said the FBI began pursuing his cousin and uncle
because of anonymous calls to the authorities made by enemies
of his uncle. "They have something against Hamid's
dad," Ismail said of the anonymous callers. "Because
of that they kept calling the FBI and saying they are terrorists."
Mohammad Khan, another cousin of Hamid Hayat, said that
the FBI sweep was all because of a stupid phone call someone
made against the Hayat family. “Hamid told me someone
called the FBI to make up a story because they have something
against him”, he added.
Mohammed Shoaib, president of the Lodi Muslim Mosque, said
the actions of a few men, who have yet to be proven guilty,
should not speak for the entire Muslim community. "If
one person does something wrong, they (should) not be judged
by the whole community of Muslims in the United States,"
he said. "I urge my brothers in the Muslim community
that we should stand together ... and that our civil liberties
should not be violated."
“The majority of the people I know love this country,
and that’s why we immigrated here,” said Taj
Khan, a member of the board trying to build a new Lodi Islamic
center. “We chose to be here ... so we may love it
more than some US citizens.”
Reporting the arrest of Pakistanis, Washington Post said
that one surprising allegation in the affidavit is the reference
to the previously unidentified al Qaeda camp, which Umer
Hayat identified as "Tamal." Such a camp would
be close to Rawalpindi -- home to Pakistan's military and
intelligence service -- and to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.
However, the paper said that officials have cautioned that
the FBI has not confirmed many aspects of Hayats' accounts
including details about the camp.