American, father held in probe of possible links to al-Qaida

FBI says son trained at terror camp in Pakistan

June 09, 2005|By Rone Tempest and Lee Romney | Rone Tempest and Lee Romney,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LODI, Calif. - After the initial arrests of a Northern California father and son and the detention of two others with alleged terrorist connections, immigration officials held a fifth person yesterday as part of what authorities described as a widening investigation.

The arrests were the result of a several-year investigation focused in the Muslim community of this central valley agricultural center, an FBI official said yesterday.

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

Arrested on Sunday, 47-year-old Umer Hayat, an 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. The 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.

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

Arraigned before a U.S. magistrate Tuesday, Umer Hayat was ordered held without bail. Hamid Hayat faces arraignment tomorrow.

The government's record on terrorism arrests has not been mistake-free. After the Madrid, Spain, train bombings in March 2004, 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 another case, in Detroit, 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 dismissed.

In a news conference in Sacramento, Slotter said the bureau in this case had no details about specific planned 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 for six months in 2003-2004 a terrorist camp in Pakistan, where he 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 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 denying terrorist links.

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

At the Sacramento news conference, U.S. Attorney 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 immigration violations. 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 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office confirmed late yesterday that agents had also detained Mohammad Hassan Adil on an alleged immigration violation. Adil is the 19-year-old son of Mohammad Adil Khan.

Federal agents have been scrambling in recent days to run down every potential lead in the case to assess its significance.

"When you have two guys taken in, they are not your problem anymore," said one counterterrorism official, referring to the Hayats. "Right now, we are trying to find their entire universe, and that takes time and effort, and it is critical that we do that immediately to see where, if anywhere, it leads."

Authorities were chasing down leads outside of Sacramento, officials said. In San Francisco, an FBI spokeswoman said agents have been following up on information developed by their counterparts in Sacramento. And in Los Angeles, a local counterterrorism official said it was too early to rule out the possibility that one or more of the men arrested in Lodi might have links to individuals there.

"This investigation is going to lead to other people," the official said. "It will just take a while to unravel."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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