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Ties to Terror Camps Probed

An investigation of Pakistani Americans' alleged links to foreign training centers expands beyond Lodi. A fifth person is detained.

June 09, 2005|Rone Tempest, Greg Krikorian and Lee Romney | Times Staff Writers

LODI, Calif. — Immigration officials in Sacramento detained a fifth person Wednesday as part of what authorities described as a widening investigation of a group of Pakistani Americans and recent immigrants, some of whom allegedly attended terrorist training camps.

The initial arrests of a Northern California father and son with alleged terrorist connections were the result of a several-year investigation focused on the Muslim community of this Central Valley agricultural center, an FBI official said Wednesday.

"We believe from our investigation that various individuals connected to Al Qaeda have been operating in the Lodi area in various capacities, including individuals who have received terrorist training abroad," said Sacramento FBI chief Keith Slotter.

Umer Hayat, a 47-year-old ice-cream truck driver, and his 22-year-old son Hamid Hayat, a worker at a fruit packing plant, were charged with making false statements to federal investigators after being arrested Sunday. Three others were detained on immigration violations.

Defense attorney Johnny L. Griffin III, a former federal prosecutor representing the father, said the relatively minor nature of the charges does not justify the amount of attention the government is giving the case.

Umer Hayat "is being portrayed as a terrorist when all he has been charged with is making false statements to federal officials," Griffin said. "This is painting a picture with a broad brush."

At an arraignment Tuesday, a U.S. magistrate ordered Umer Hayat held without bail. Hamid Hayat is to be arraigned Friday.

The government's record on terrorism arrests is not unblemished. After the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, for example, FBI fingerprint experts erroneously identified a Portland, Ore., attorney as a suspect. Spanish police had questioned the accuracy of the fingerprint match. A federal judge in Portland later dismissed the case, and agents apologized to the attorney, Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim convert.

In a Detroit case, federal officials announced charges against three North African men with great fanfare in 2001. After the government initially won convictions, the cases fell apart and were eventually dismissed.

At a news conference in Sacramento, Slotter said the bureau in the latest case had no details about specific plans for terrorist acts.

"We do not possess information concerning exact plans or timing of specific targets of opportunity," Slotter said. "It has been reported that certain institutions such as hospitals and food stores were targeted. We do not have information that these or any other sectors in the United States have been primarily targeted or are specifically vulnerable to attack."

Slotter disclosed that the younger Hayat, who was born in the United States but studied for years at his grandfather's religious school in Pakistan, has been "under investigation for an extended period of time."

An FBI official in Washington confirmed that the arrests were part of a broader investigation into suspected Islamic militants within the Pakistani community in the United States, including Lodi. He said he could not discuss details of the probe or its findings to date, given the sensitivity of U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism efforts.

Details about the direction of the federal probe were contained in an affidavit released Tuesday in which the younger Hayat allegedly told federal agents that he attended a terrorist camp in Pakistan for six months in 2003-04 and was instructed on attacking targets in the United States.

Included in the training, Hamid Hayat reportedly told agents, was target practice using pictures of President Bush.

Umer Hayat allegedly told investigators that he also toured camps operated by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a family friend who once headed an organization identified by U.S. officials as a terrorist group. Both men allegedly made the statements after first denying any terrorist links.

Despite the FBI affidavit, family members in Lodi contend that the terrorist allegations are false. Salma Hayat, the mother of Hamid Hayat, said she was with him in their ancestral village of Hazro in the northern part of Pakistan's Punjab province while he allegedly was at the training camp.

A cousin, Maher, said Hamid was too frail to participate in training. "He was with his mom the whole time," the cousin said Wednesday.

At the Sacramento news conference, U.S. Atty. McGregor Scott said two other Lodi men, Muslim clerics Mohamed Adil Khan and Shabir Ahmed, have been detained by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on suspicion of immigration violations. On Tuesday, the FBI searched both men's homes and offices, as well as the Hayat home in Lodi, confiscating videotapes, photos and computer equipment.

The immigration and customs office confirmed late Wednesday that agents had also detained Mohammad Hassan Adil on suspicion of an immigration violation. Adil is the 19-year-old son of Mohammad Adil Khan.

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