LODI, Calif. - An American man of Pakistani descent has been arrested along with his father, a naturalized U.S. citizen, as part of an investigation by federal officials into possible al- Qaida terrorist connections in this town about 40 miles south of Sacramento.
According to an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, the man, Hamid Hayat, 22, told investigators last weekend that he had been trained "on how to kill Americans' at a camp in Pakistan affiliated with al-Qaida. The affidavit stated that during Hayat's weapons training, "photos of various high-ranking United States political figures, including President Bush, would be pasted on their targets."
Hayat, who was born in California, returned to the United States on May 29 after spending more than two years in Pakistan. He began working last week as a cherry picker with a local fruit packing company, a family member said.
The affidavit said Hayat's father, Umer Hayat, 47, an ice cream truck driver in Lodi, provided financial support for his son's training. Both men were arrested Tuesday and are being held in a Sacramento jail. They have been charged with lying to federal investigators about the training camp and are scheduled to appear in federal court June 21, said Johnny L. Griffin III, a lawyer for the father.
"Notwithstanding the alarming statement made in the affidavit, the government has only charged each of the defendants with one count of making a false statement to a federal agent." Griffin said. "They are not charged in this complaint with committing any terrorist acts, and they are not charged in this complaint with supporting any terrorist acts."
Federal law enforcement officials emphasized that the investigation was in its early stages, that more charges are likely and that more people might be involved.
'It's several years old, and it's ongoing." said John Cauthen, a special agent with the FBI in Sacramento, speaking of the investigation. "We actually have agents in the field working as we speak, and we do not want to say anything that will compromise their work."
A relative of the Hayat men, Usama Ismail, 19, described the accusations against them as "total lies." Ismail said the statements in the affidavit attributed to Hamid Hayat must have been coerced from him "after hours and hours of interrogation."
"He did not go to a terrorist training camp." said Ismail, who lives on the same block as the Hayats and whose mother is Umer Hayat's sister. "Even if they did say that, that's because the FBI made them say what they wanted them to say."
Ismail said the FBI began pursuing his cousin and uncle because of anonymous calls to the authorities made by enemies of his uncle. He said that he could not elaborate, but that when he last spoke to his cousin Saturday, Hamid Hayat said he was cooperating with the FBI and he seemed to be unconcerned.
"They have something against Hamid's dad." Ismail said of the anonymous callers. "Because of that, they kept calling the FBI and saying they are terrorists."
Two other men have also been arrested in connection with the investigation. The two men, Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammed Adil Khan, are imams affiliated with the two mosques in Lodi, the Farooqia Islamic Center and the Lodi Muslim Mosque. The town has had a sizable Pakistani Muslim population for many years, residents said, and there are plans to build a Muslim school on the outskirts of town.
The authorities said the two imams, who are not U.S. citizens, were jailed for immigration violations.
A law enforcement official who has been briefed on the investigation said that Khan, who is identified on the Farooqia Islamic Center Web site as its president, has been under FBI surveillance for years. The official said the imam was the subject of electronic eavesdropping warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the monitoring of subjects in national security cases.
The official said there were suspicions after the attacks of Sept. 11 that Khan might be interested in organizing a terrorist training camp in the Lodi area. Those concerns resulted in an intense investigation that was considered important enough to reach the desks of senior officials in Washington, including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.
A lawyer for the two imams, Saad Ahmad, said the men were innocent of wrongdoing, describing them as "law abiding' and "decent hardworking people." Ahmad said Khan and Shabbir Ahmed were granted entry to the United States to work as imams, but he said law enforcement officials accused them of violating their visas because they "did not perform their duties as an imam."
Law enforcement officials said they are unclear about the intentions of the Hayat father and son, but suspect, mainly based on their evasions in interviews, that the two men were recruited to take part in terrorist activity in the United States. Hamid Hayat told investigators that 'he specifically requested to come to the United States to carry out his Jihadi mission." according to the affidavit.
"Potential targets for attack would include hospitals and large food stores." said the affidavit, signed by Pedro Tenoch Aguilar, an FBI agent.
As Muslims across Lodi converged on a mosque on Poplar Street for afternoon prayers, some said they were shocked by the arrests and detentions and were distrustful of the claims by the federal authorities. Nawaz Shah, 19, who was born in Pakistan but has spent most of his life in Lodi, said he was growing weary of the assumption among many Americans since Sept. 11 that Muslims are terrorists.
Shah said, "We really can't go around always believing in our faith and this and that, because we have the press on us and people calling us terrorists."