SAN FRANCISCO - Muhammed Adil Khan, the Pakistani imam linked to an ongoing terrorism investigation in Lodi, agreed Friday to be deported to his homeland rather than fight federal immigration charges.
While the government claimed Adil Khan's deportation was a victory in the war on terrorism, the imam's lawyer, Saad Ahmad, said U.S. authorities would not let his client leave if he were a true terrorist threat.
Adil Khan decided to leave because "he and his father in Pakistan are both suffering from heart conditions, his family life has been disrupted and his family has been terrorized," said Ahmad, adding that Adil Khan's wife and children in Lodi have received obscene phone calls and threatening visits since the imam was arrested June 6.
But immigration officials characterized the deportation as a preventive tool.
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"As part of this ongoing investigation, (immigration officials) and other agencies involved are using a range of strategies, including both criminal and administrative proceedings, to remove any potential threat to the community," said Ronald E. Le Fevre, San Francisco chief counsel of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"ICE 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."
The surprise agreement, announced during a hastily called immigration hearing in San Francisco, came amid the FBI's ongoing probe of al-Qaida connections in Lodi, a San Joaquin farming community of 62,000.
Adil Khan, who came to Lodi as imam in 2001, is portrayed in federal court documents as masterminding a plot to groom al-Qaida recruits in California. According to the documents, his accomplice is fellow Pakistani Shabbir Ahmed, another Lodi imam, who also faces immigration charges but is fighting his deportation.
Adil Khan, 47; his son Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19; and Shabbir Ahmed, 39; are among five Muslims from Lodi's large Pakistani community arrested last month by federal agents. So far, none of the five has been charged with any terrorist acts.
The investigation was triggered by the arrests of ice cream vendor Umer Hayat, 47, and his son, Hamid Hayat, 22, who are charged with making false statements to FBI agents about their involvement in an al-Qaida training camp near Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
According to federal court documents, Hamid Hayat admitted during a lengthy interrogation that he attended the camp for six months in 2003-04. According to the documents, his father admitted financing the venture.
In the documents, the Hayats are said to have identified several other Lodi-area men they said also attended terrorist training camps in Pakistan. They said the Lodi-area jihadists would take their direction from Ahmed, who answered to Adil Khan, according to the documents. Adil Khan, in turn, allegedly took orders from the operator of the terrorist training camp near Rawalpindi, Fazler Rehman - whose "boss" is Osama bin Laden.
The documents say Umer Hayat claimed "Adil Khan's purpose in America is to develop a U.S.-based madrassah which would serve the same purpose as the madrassahs in Pakistan."
The Hayats now deny that scenario, according to prosecutors.
Their attorneys claim any statements by the Hayats about terrorist training camps were made under extreme duress.
In a separate development in Sacramento Friday, a federal judge in the Hayats' criminal case refused to postpone their Aug. 23 trial, rebuffing prosecutors' strong pleas for more time to canvass 40 government agencies for potential evidence.
U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. noted the "defendants are pressing their right to a speedy trial" and the prosecutors did not make an adequate showing that they cannot be ready. It was a significant victory for defense attorneys Johnny Griffin III and Wazhma Mojaddidi, who have been pushing to get the case to trial.
In seeking a delay, prosecutors R. Steven Lapham and Robert Tice-Raskin cited the volume of material they must gather and analyze. A search of the Hayats' Lodi residence yielded 2,000 pages of documents in four languages and 400 "forms of loose media," the prosecutors told Burrell, and the government is still in the process of reviewing that material.
"This is not a complex case at all," countered Griffin, Umer Hayat's lawyer and himself a former state and federal prosecutor. "They are charged with false statements.
"When you indict somebody and put them in jail, you are supposed to have all your ducks in a row."
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Hayat case said Friday that Adil Khan's deportation would have no impact on the trial, despite the government's depiction of the imam as a terrorist recruiter connected to al-Qaida figures in Pakistan.
"Why would I want him as a witness?" said Griffin. "The FBI has painted him as a man with questionable ties and a checkered past. If I called him, the prosecutors would just dirty him up on cross-examination and hope it rubbed off on the Hayats."
One government source said just because Adil Khan is being deported doesn't mean he won't be charged with terrorist acts eventually if the evidence warrants it. "We're still continuing to look at this guy hot and heavy and we're going to continue to do that up until the time he gets on a plane."
Ahmad - the attorney for Adil Khan, his son and Shabbir Ahmed - said his clients were "in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obviously, if my clients were dangerous they wouldn't be allowed to leave."
Ahmad maintains his clients were victims of an internal power struggle at the Lodi Muslim Mosque and were turned in to immigration officials by a faction that had seized power from Adil Khan's supporters.
Adil Khan started coming to America in the 1980s to raise money for his father's Karachi madrassah, the Jamia Farooqia School. The school, which has 4,000 students, has produced warriors for al-Qaida, according to the U.S. government.
But in America, Adil Khan preached peace and tolerance, his supporters say, declaring his intention to create a progressive Muslim school here open to girls as well as boys, non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
When he learned the Lodi mosque planned to start its own school, he formed a collaboration and in the spring of 2001 came to the United States on a religious visa to serve as imam.
His lawyer said Adil Khan - who will leave with his family of five within two weeks - will continue to spread a message of peace and inclusion in Pakistan. "He's going to be a great asset to the Pakistani government in the war on terror," Ahmad said.
The other former imam, Shabbir Ahmed, remains in custody in Sacramento County jail pending his Aug. 9 immigration hearing. "He has chosen to fight this charge because he's younger and has no family here," his lawyer said.
About the writer:
- The Bee's Dorothy Korber can be reached at (916) 321-1061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Korber and Magagnini reported from San Francisco, and Walsh from Sacramento.