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Lodi Terror Case Goes to the Jury

In closing arguments, two different portraits of Hamid Hayat emerge: a would-be killer, or a man manipulated by a paid informant.

April 13, 2006|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Is Hamid Hayat a potential killer programmed at a Pakistan terrorist camp to attack his fellow Americans?

Or is he a frail young man, desperate for approval, goaded into making false boasts by an older, more sophisticated FBI informant?

Contradictory profiles of Hayat were presented by attorneys Wednesday in closing arguments before a jury of six men and six women that began deliberations in the trial of the 23-year-old Lodi man charged with attending a terrorist training camp in late 2003 and lying about it to the FBI.

Final arguments in the companion case against Hayat's father, Lodi ice cream truck driver Umer Hayat, 48, are set for today before a separate jury. The elder Hayat is charged with lying to the FBI about his son's alleged participation in the camp.

"A not-guilty verdict would mean that we could go and get our lives back together. This thing has destroyed our lives for a year," said Taj Khan, a Lodi community leader who was one of a handful of Central Valley Muslims who attended the final arguments in the crowded 13th-floor courtroom of U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr.

Khan said most of Lodi's 2,500 Pakistani Americans feel the father and son are innocent in the case that federal agents initially presented as a terrorist sleeper cell operating in California's agricultural heartland.

The Lodi case was recently cited by U.S. intelligence chief John D. Negroponte as an example of a "home-grown jihadist cell." It is one of the first U.S. prosecutions to focus on a terrorism training camp in Pakistan, a key U.S. ally. Most "material support of terrorism" allegations have centered on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Tice-Raskin opened for the prosecution by describing Hamid Hayat as a man "with a jihadi heart and a jihadi mind" who celebrated the terrorist execution of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and who referred to the American president as "Bush, the worm." As the prosecutor spoke, at one point showing the jury a videotape of Hayat's interrogation by FBI agents, Hayat -- his hair and goatee trimmed neatly and wearing a dark suit -- watched intently at the side of an Urdu translator.

Pointing to a collection of militant Muslim and anti-American literature seized by FBI agents from the Hayats' Lodi home, Tice-Raskin portrayed the Stockton-born Hayat as someone for whom the United States is "his country in name only, his heart belongs to Pakistan."

As she did for much of the eight-week trial, defense attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi attacked the government's key witness in the case, a Pakistani convenience store clerk from Bend, Ore., whom the FBI paid nearly $230,000 to spy on Lodi Muslims and secretly record their conversations. Mojaddidi said that Hamid Hayat was thrilled when informant Naseem Khan, "an older, cooler guy," struck up a friendship in August 2002. Khan, she said, had "a better car, better clothes and better lifestyle."

Mojaddidi portrayed Khan as a longtime minimum-wage fast-food worker who saw the FBI as a meal ticket. "Naseem Khan saw a financial future with the FBI. He got to hang out in Lodi. All he had to do was lead conversations to anti-American sentiments and push 'record,' " she said.

The FBI, she said, was delighted to have an Urdu- and Pashto-speaking Muslim so willing to cooperate.

The defense attorney ridiculed the prosecution's presentation of a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and several books written by Muslim radicals as evidence that Hayat had a "jihadist" heart. "Reading about jihad," said Mojaddidi, "doesn't make you a jihadi; just as reading a murder mystery doesn't make you a murderer."

When Hamid Hayat was first questioned last year by the FBI in Tokyo, after his flight to San Francisco had been rerouted, the interviewing agent said that he appeared too thin and frail to have recently undergone any rigorous training.

In her closing argument Mojaddidi attempted to use that FBI report to her client's benefit.

But when Justice Department attorney David Deitch rose to make the prosecution's final statement, he turned the tables on the defense.

"How thin or not thin do you need to be to spray a crowd with an AK-47?" Deitch roared. "How thin or not thin do you have to be to strap on a backpack full of explosives and walk into a crowd?"

Deitch also tried to repair what has been a constant problem for the prosecution: Naseem Khan's assertion when he first spoke with FBI agents in Oregon in 2001 that he had seen senior Al Qaeda terrorist Ayman Zawahiri worshipping and lecturing at the mosque in Lodi, where Khan lived in 1998 and 1999.

Khan later identified two other wanted terrorists as having been in Lodi during that period. Terrorism experts universally dismissed the purported sightings as very unlikely.

"It was clearly a mistake," Deitch said. "Those people were not in Lodi. That was a mistake, but there is no evidence" that Khan lied.

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