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Defense Rests in Lodi Terror Trial

Most graduates of schools like one Hamid Hayat attended aren't jihadists, an expert says.

April 12, 2006|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The federal terrorism case against a Pakistani American and his father, which began with FBI claims that a Central Valley farm town harbored an Al Qaeda cell, wrapped up Tuesday with defense attorneys confidently predicting an acquittal.

Final arguments begin today in the trial of Hamid Hayat, 23, a junior high dropout from Lodi, Calif., accused of attending a terrorism training camp in Pakistan in late 2003 and then lying about it to the FBI.

A separate jury will hear final arguments Thursday against his father, Umer Hayat, 48, a bespectacled ice cream truck driver charged with lying to the FBI about his son's alleged terrorist training.

"I feel good," Johnny Griffin III, the father's attorney, said after leaving court.

"The government never had a smoking gun. They didn't establish that there were any terrorist training camps that Hamid attended -- and that Umer knew about," he said.

Federal prosecutors smiled as they left the courtroom but said they would have no comment until after the juries delivered verdicts.

The son and father, both U.S. citizens, were arrested in June by federal agents based largely on secret recordings made by a government informant who had infiltrated the large Pakistani immigrant community in Lodi, a farming town about 30 miles south of Sacramento.

After several hours of interrogation, both men told agents that the younger Hayat had attended a terrorist training camp while living in Pakistan. But within days they recanted.

Defense attorneys contend that the Hayats were bullied into concocting wild tales out of a misguided belief it would help them escape punishment.

Hamid Hayat faces up to 39 years in prison if convicted, and his father could spend up to 16 years behind bars.

Testimony in the eight-week trial ended Tuesday with Anita Weiss, a University of Oregon expert on Pakistan, attempting to debunk the government's assessment of terrorism ties involving youth camps and Muslim religious schools that Hamid Hayat might have attended.

Hayat lived with his extended family in Pakistan for several years in his teens and early adulthood, gleaning the bulk of his religious training at a madrassa, or Islamic school, run by his maternal grandfather. He also married while overseas.

Weiss said most graduates of madrassas do not become violent terrorists bent on holy war.

In reference to Hayat's long stay in Pakistan, she said it is common for Pakistani Americans to embrace a "myth of return" to their homeland for religious training, cultural education and arranged marriages.

During several hours of testimony, Weiss took exception to a key prosecution argument that several Pakistani political parties are affiliated with terrorism camps.

Although nearly all political groups and many individuals in Pakistan are critical of U.S. foreign policy, Weiss said, such opposition stops well short of embracing violence. The Pakistani government has in recent years effectively shut down terrorist training facilities, she added.

Some Pakistani political groups have long histories of running madrassas that focus on teaching an orthodox brand of Islam, not churning out suicide bombers, she said.

Hamid Hayat's maternal grandfather is a member of the fundamentalist Jamiat ulema-e-Islam, one of several political groups that run madrassas and youth camps. Weiss suggested such camps are more like evangelical retreats than terrorism training grounds, calling them "a celebration of religion."

Assistant U.S. Atty. David Deitch said during cross-examination of Weiss that Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a leader of one Jamiat ulema-e-Islam faction, had publicly endorsed the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

Weiss countered that Rehman, a prominent opposition member in the Pakistani parliament, is not so atypical among Muslim fundamentalists.

"Many politicians say incendiary things," she added.

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