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Tape Recording Surfaces in Lodi Terrorism Trial

Informant testifies that he failed to give the FBI the phone conversation with a defendant.

April 05, 2006|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — As a federal terrorism trial of a Lodi, Calif., father and son nears its final stage, the FBI's undercover informant revealed Tuesday that he failed to turn over a clandestine tape recording he made of one of the defendants nearly four years ago.

Naseem Khan, 32, a former Bend, Ore., convenience store clerk recruited by the FBI in 2001 to infiltrate the large Muslim community in Lodi, told prosecutors that he found the tape over the weekend while rummaging through his possessions in his Sacramento area apartment.

Attorneys on both sides declined to talk about the contents of the 20-minute tape of an Oct. 18, 2002, telephone conversation between Khan and defendant Hamid Hayat. But defense attorneys said they would call Khan to the stand today to explain how he found the tape, why he failed to turn it over to his FBI handlers and whether there could be more undisclosed tapes in his possession.

Khan, who secretly recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with Lodi Muslims, is the key government witness in the case against Hayat, a 23-year-old Pakistani American junior high school dropout, and his father, Lodi ice cream truck driver Umer Hayat, 48.

In the conversations between Khan and the Hayats introduced previously, the informant presents himself as a militant Muslim. He constantly scolds and encourages the younger, obviously admiring, Khan to take action. At one point, Khan threatens to grab Hamid Hayat by the throat and throw him into a Pakistan school for religious training.

The younger Hayat is charged with "providing material support" for terrorism by attending a militant training camp in Pakistan in late 2003. Both men are charged with lying to federal agents.

Defense attorneys consider Khan's credibility a weak point in the government case. Khan, whom the FBI paid nearly $230,000 over three years to spy on his fellow Muslims in Lodi, shocked the courtroom three weeks ago when he testified that he saw Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader worshiping in a Lodi mosque in 1998-99.

Terrorism experts and government officials universally questioned the notion that Ayman Zawahiri, an Egyptian who was already suspected in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, would be in the United States at such a late date.

After the Hayats' attorneys homed in on the purported Zawahiri sighting when they opened their defense last week, the prosecution tried to limit the damage by issuing a statement to the jury that the government had no reason to believe the Al Qaeda leader had visited Lodi. The government stipulation limited the defense's ability to bring more witnesses to the stand to question the Zawahiri link.

Also Tuesday, an American volunteer earthquake relief worker testified that in February he visited the site of what the U.S. government contends is the terrorist training camp near Balakot, in remote northwest Pakistan, that Hamid Hayat attended in late 2003. Although the witness' testimony was limited by a barrage of government objections, James Lazor testified that he was turned away from the camp by a man in a Pakistan military vehicle.

Lazor also testified that he drove through a larger, formal Pakistan "military cadet academy and army depot" only two miles from the alleged terrorist camp.

Outside the courtroom, Lazor said he was turned back from entering the Balakot camp by a Pakistani army sergeant named Hafaaz, who told him the place was "not open to civilians and that it was a Pakistan military camp."

Defense attorney Wazhma Mujaddidi, who represents Hamid Hayat, maintains that the camp the U.S. says is used by terrorists is actually a Pakistan military facility or a training camp that must operate with the full knowledge of nearby Pakistan military units.

Mujaddidi said the reason her client told FBI officials, after several hours of interrogation, that he attended the camp was that he was tired and wanted to please his questioners.

One of the interrogators, Sacramento FBI Agent Gary Schaaf, admitted under defense questioning Tuesday that he asked leading questions during the interrogation. A juror who was excused from the case shortly before the prosecution rested said she felt the FBI agents had "badgered" Hamid Hayat into saying what they wanted to hear.

On the stand Tuesday, Schaaf admitted that he brought up the province in which the camp is located, the type of training, the names of several Pakistani terrorist political organizations and "killing of American soldiers," before Hamid Hayat addressed them himself.

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