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Lodi Man Describes Terrorist Training

Times Staff Writer

In a 2004 visit to a clandestine camp in Pakistan, Umer Hayat said he witnessed nearly 1,000 terrorist trainees -- masked like “ninja turtles” -- slashing curved swords at dummies with images of President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In a videotaped interrogation by FBI agents shown in federal court Tuesday, Hayat said trainees at the camp allegedly attended by his son also practiced pole vaulting “like 50 feet” so they could leap rivers.

Hayat, 47, an ice cream truck driver, and his son Hamid, 23, both of Lodi, are on trial in Sacramento. Hamid Hayat is accused of attending a terrorist training camp, and both are accused of lying to federal agents.

In a potential problem for the government when the case goes to the jury, the father’s and son’s stories about the alleged terrorist camp differ sharply. Hamid Hayat said the camp he attended was miles from the family home, tucked in a remote forest. Umer Hayat said it was in a huge basement only six miles from Rawalpindi, where his prominent father-in-law operates a large madrassa, or religious school.

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Hamid Hayat named some of his relatives as other Lodi men who had attended the camps. Umer Hayat named the sons of three neighbors as camp attendees.

As in the videotaped interrogation of Hamid Hayat shown earlier in the trial, the FBI agents did most of the talking and sometimes appeared to reassure the Hayats, who speak halting English, about their actions.

FBI agent Timothy Harrison described attending training camps in Pakistan as “an important part of growing up there.” FBI agent Gary Schaaf characterized terrorist camps as a rite of passage for Pakistani males. Another agent described Umer Hayat’s visit to the camp as the equivalent of a father inspecting a child’s college campus.

Defense attorney Johnny L. Griffin said Umer Hayat was “psychologically bullied and emotionally pressured into doing whatever the FBI agents wanted him to say or do.”

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Key to the government case, Griffin said, is the credibility of FBI informant Naseem Khan, who went from a fast-food worker and convenience store manager to a full-time FBI operative who earned more than $200,000 in salary and bonuses.

The FBI referred to their plant in Lodi’s Muslim community by the code name “Wildcat.” But Griffin said Tuesday that Khan’s greed for FBI cash caused him to push and prod the Hayats to exaggerate their Pakistani terrorism connections.

“Wildcat literally cashed in on the war on terror,” Griffin said.

Court documents have shown that Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who became a naturalized citizen in 2004, originally targeted Lodi’s two Muslim religious leaders, Imams Mohammed Adil Khan and Shabbir Ahmed, whom the FBI believed to be the ringleaders of a terrorist cell.

“Adil and Shabbir and the people who are getting, you know, kids like Hamid to potentially do things that are very dangerous. That’s our main purpose. You understand that,” agent Schaaf told Umer Hayat.

Midway through Umer Hayat’s interrogation June 4 and 5, the agents persuaded him to put on a recording device and pay a midnight visit to the imams.

The clandestine taping was unproductive, partly because the imams had become suspicious of the informant’s actions in the Central Valley farming community that is home to 2,500 Pakistani Americans, many of whom have lived there for generations.

Both imams were allowed to leave the country voluntarily, turning the focus of the three-year, multi-agency federal Terrorism Task Force investigation on the ice cream truck driver and his son.

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Umer Hayat faces up to 16 years in prison on two counts of lying to federal agents. Hamid Hayat faces up to 39 years in prison.


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