An Islamic religious leader and his son, who were arrested during the investigation of possible terrorist activity in Lodi, Calif., agreed Friday to be deported in exchange for the government dropping charges that the two men misrepresented themselves when entering the country.
Imam Mohammad Adil Khan, 47, and his son Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19, conceded in federal Immigration Court that they overstayed their religious worker visas. They will probably be sent back to Pakistan within two weeks, said their attorney, Saad Ahmad, after the brief afternoon proceeding.
Ahmad vehemently denied that his clients had anything to do with terrorism. The attorney said the imam wanted to convey his condolences to the families of those killed in the recent London terrorist bombings but did not have an opportunity to make a statement in court.
“If my clients were dangerous, why would they be allowed to leave voluntarily?” he asked, adding that he did not expect the government to press criminal charges against the two men, who will remain in custody until they return to Pakistan. “If [authorities] had evidence, they’d already be charged.”
However, U.S. immigration authorities said the deportation agreement was part of an ongoing government strategy of using civil and administrative proceedings to remove targeted individuals perceived to be a threat to the country.
A similar agreement was used by the government in January to deport Anaheim Muslim religious leader Wagdy Mohammed Ghoneim, 53, an Egyptian cleric suspected by the government of illegal fundraising activities.
In a statement issued after the Friday hearing, San Francisco Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief Ronald E. Le Fevre said his agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, “will not allow foreign nationals to use the United States as a haven for activities that potentially put our nation or other nations at risk.”
Another Lodi Muslim cleric, Shabbir Ahmed, 38, who also was arrested in the June roundup of Lodi residents, is scheduled for a deportation hearing next month. In a court hearing last month, he admitted that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he gave several speeches in his native Pakistan urging crowds to battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Two other men, father and son Umer Hayat, 47, and Hamid Hayat, 22, are charged with lying to federal agents about Hamid’s alleged 2003-04 attendance at a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
In a hearing in Sacramento on Friday, attorneys for the Hayats pushed for an early trial date under the federal Speedy Trial Act. Government attorneys, however, asked for a delay, saying the case was extremely complicated and involved classified documents affecting national security, including at least one that they said was uncovered in a search of the Hayats’ Lodi home. The government attorneys did not describe the nature of the document.
After hearing arguments, Sacramento U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell said he would announce his decision later.
The voluntary deportation agreement for Adil Khan and his son lifted the spirits of some members of the large Lodi Pakistani American Muslim community who felt it represented at least a partial exoneration of their former imam. Adil Khan was viewed by many in Lodi as an ecumenical religious figure who reached out to members of the Christian and Jewish communities.
“The fact that there are no terrorism charges against him is great,” said Abdur Lughmani, 52, a Delta College business administration student who is acting imam of the Lodi mosque. “This is great news for us. He is a great religious leader. God bless him.”
Many blamed Adil Khan’s misfortunes on jealousies and rivalries within the Lodi Muslim community, suggesting that authorities were led to Adil Khan’s family by Muslims unhappy with his administration of the mosque.
“It is sad that he suffered from so much fighting in our community,” said Mohammed Khan, 44, a Lodi truck driver who has lived in the U.S. 17 years.
Recent weeks have been tough on Lodi, a searingly hot San Joaquin Valley farm center known for its premium Zinfandel wines and industrial fruit-packing operations. About 4,000 to 5,000 Muslims live in Lodi. Most are Pakistani immigrants who began arriving here more than seven decades ago, attracted by the farm work.
The arrests of the five Lodi men last month, followed by this month’s London bombings allegedly by members of the Pakistani immigrant community in Leeds, have brought fleets of television trucks along with squadrons of government agents into the normally quiet agricultural community.
On Wednesday night, Lodi was featured on the ABC news program “Nightline.” The program included videotape footage of FBI cars following local teenagers. One person in the panel of Lodi Pakistani Americans featured on the show was Taj Khan, a local engineer, newspaper columnist and community leader.
Taj Khan, 62, is one of Adil Khan’s staunchest supporters in Lodi. The two men worked together on a project to build a Muslim education facility on the edge of town.
A civil engineer, Taj Khan said Friday that the government’s failure to name Adil Khan on terrorism charges amounts not only to a victory for the imam but for the town as well.
“As far as I am concerned,” he said, “the stigma of terrorism has been removed from Lodi because if they didn’t have a case against these two people, they don’t have a case against the others either. It is a disgrace that they kept this innocent man in jail for a month and a half.”
Until deportation, Adil Khan will remain in custody in Santa Clara County Jail. His son is in Sacramento County Jail.
The imam’s wife, daughter and younger son will also be deported, attorney Ahmad said, adding that the family has been “terrorized” in Lodi recently, harassed by obscene phone calls.
Although the family is not banned from returning to the United States, Ahmad said it was unlikely that they would come back because they would have to get another visa from the U.S. government.
But he said the imam’s “future is bright. He is optimistic. He is going to go back and spread his message of peace ... He’s leaving with a generous heart and a generous spirit.”
LaGanga reported from San Francisco, Tempest from Lodi.