Relative Casts Doubt on Charge
The Northern California man federal agents claim attended a Pakistan terrorist training camp where he learned to kill Americans is described by a relative at a religious school he attended here as a shy, sickly man more interested in the sport of cricket than terrorism.
An uncle of Hamid Hayat, 22, the Lodi man under investigation by the FBI for alleged terrorism links, said Friday, “There is no way [Hayat] attended any terrorist training camp.” He suggested that some U.S. government claims about Hayat may have been the result of confusion between a prominent member of the Pakistan parliament associated with the religious school, the Jamia Islamia Madrassa, and another similarly named man long identified by the U.S. government as having ties to Al Qaeda.
Shackled and wearing an orange Sacramento County Jail jumpsuit, the thin, full-bearded Hayat made his first court appearance Friday in a bond hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter A. Nowinski. Apparently unable to follow the proceedings in English, Hayat listened with the help of an Urdu translator.
After federal prosecutor R. Steven Lapham said that Hayat, an American citizen born in Stockton, had “no significant ties to this community and could easily return to Pakistan,” Nowinski ordered him held without bail.
“The nature of the underlying allegations is that he is a danger to the community,” Nowinski said.
Hayat and his father, 47-year-old Lodi ice cream truck driver Umer Hayat, are charged with making false statements to federal agents.
However, an FBI affidavit claims that the younger Hayat admitted attending terrorist training camps outside Rawalpindi for six months in 2003-2004.
In Rawalpindi, uncle Attiqur Rehman reacted with disbelief.
“There must be some misunderstanding regarding the arrest of Hamid. He remained in his village all the time during his visit. He got married. All he talked about or was interested in most of the time was cricket,” Rehman said.
Thursday a government spokesman in Islamabad, the Pakistan capital, also denied the claims that Hamid Hayat had trained here.
“There are no training camps in Pakistan,” senior foreign ministry official Naeem Khan told Agence France-Presse news agency.
Khan said the Pakistan government had asked its embassy in Washington to get details of the charges from U.S. authorities.
Hamid Hayat’s uncle said that Hayat attended the school beginning in 1994 and lived with his grandfather and uncle’s family on the school grounds for nearly four years before moving to his family village near Attock Fort in Punjab state.
The school was founded in 1962 by Hayat’s maternal grandfather, Qari Saeed ur Rehman, who still oversees the school.
The 550-student school is registered with the Pakistani government. The grandfather is a leader in the religious Jamiat Ulema Islam party, which opposes government plans to revamp the madrassa system.
The grandfather served as minister of religious affairs in the late 1980s. In September 2001, he was part of a 10-member delegation of leading Pakistan clerics who met with Taliban chief Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, asking him to turn over Osama bin Laden to U.S. forces.
Since then, he has been associated with an alliance of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal.
In a early version of a the affidavit attached to the charges against the Hayat father and son, the government claimed that Hamid Hayat attended a “jihadist” training camp near Rawalpindi “operated by Maulana Fazlur Rehman.”
Hayat’s uncle suggested here that the federal agents may have been crossed up by the similarity in names of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, an opposition leader of the grandfather’s party, and another man, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who has a long record of links with Al Qaeda and is believed to have operated training camps in Afghanistan.
“They must have been confused,” the uncle, Attiqur Rehman, said. He denied any family connection with Khalil, who headed the banned Harkat Ansar and Harkat Mujahedin political groups identified with terrorist activity.
In a later version of the affidavit filed in Sacramento federal court, the name Maulana Fazlur Rehman was deleted. Justice Department officials blamed the two versions on a bureaucratic error.
Federal officials say their interest in the Hayat father and son goes back several years. In a 2003 case, officials said, they were caught trying to leave the country for Pakistan with $28,000 in cash, significantly more than the $10,000 allowed under federal law.
Federal agents say they discovered that the elder Hayat and his son were each taking $10,000 and Hayat’s wife was carrying $8,093. Before allowing the family to leave the U.S., the agents seized all but $1,093, though several months later the family was returned more than $24,000, a source said. The remaining money was kept by the U.S. government as a penalty.
The source said it was not immediately clear why the family was trying to take so much money to Pakistan.
But a cousin of Hamid Hayat said Friday that much of the money was intended to pay for a house about two hours from Islamabad. The rest, according to the cousin, was being carried to the Pakistani relatives of friends living in the U.S.
With more arrests possible, authorities Friday were concentrating on finalizing evidence to present to a federal grand jury for an indictment by the end of next week. “This case is still under active investigation,” said one official.
That official was one of several involved in the case who continued to avoid -- even in private conversations -- describing the individuals arrested so far as a terrorist cell. “There is a group of individuals we are looking at and ... this is a significant case,” said the official.
“Clearly,” said another federal official, “there are a lot of other people we are interested in locating.”
Times special correspondent Zaidi reported from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and Times staff writers Tempest and Krikorian reported from Sacramento and Los Angeles, respectively.