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Raids stun close-knit Pakistani community

Several years ago, Imam Muhammed Adil Khan of the Lodi mosque signed a "Declaration of Peace" with a rabbi and a Christian minister. The declaration condemned terrorism by religious fanatics of all faiths.

Over the weekend, Khan - known to local Muslim leaders as an honorable man who often reached out to other faiths - reportedly was caught in an FBI sweep that has struck fear into many of Lodi's 2,500 Pakistani Americans.

At the center of the investigation, according to federal officials, are Hamid Hayat, a young man who worked at a local cherry-packing company, and his father, Umer Hayat, who drives an ice cream truck in Lodi. Father and son appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento and are being held on federal charges.

Hamid Hayat, 22, is accused in a federal criminal complaint of training in an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan to learn "how to kill Americans" and then lying to FBI agents about it.

His father, 47, is accused of lying about both the son's involvement and helping finance the camp.

Over the weekend, two imams from the Lodi mosque, Adil Khan and Shabbir Ahmed, were detained on federal immigration violations, a source told The Bee. On Tuesday, more than a dozen FBI agents raided the mosque and searched the homes of those two men and the Hayats. Meanwhile, about a dozen Pakistani Americans, most of them youths, said they had been questioned by FBI agents over the past few days.

Whether the two men from the mosque are connected to the charges against the Hayats is unknown. Taj Khan, a Pakistani community leader in Lodi, said he has seen Umer Hayat at the mosque, which has more than 500 members.

Taj Khan, no relation to Adil Khan, said he knew the imams as "decent, honest, sincere people who worked together with Jews and Christians." He added that Adil Khan was working to establish a private elementary school open to all races.

Pakistani Americans have forged a strong and close-knit community in Lodi, a farming town of 62,000 in San Joaquin County. Taj Khan said people have been trying to piece together the story. "Everybody is kind of afraid," he said. "Nobody believes or understands what's going on - we are in awe."

Pakistanis began settling in Lodi nearly a century ago, Taj Khan said, adding that many are blue-collar workers with deep roots in America.

"The Muslim community in Lodi supports any efforts to find people who are trying to hurt us or destroy the United States," he said. "People have been living here for 80 to 90 years, and we've always cooperated with local law enforcement authorities and will continue to do so."

Some of those questioned by FBI agents say their civil rights have been violated. Zafar Mohammad Khan, 19, said he is Hamid Hayat's cousin and was at a local grocery store Monday with Hayat's younger brother and an uncle when four FBI agents began questioning them. "These guys were following us everywhere," Zafar Khan said.

He said he refused to answer the agents' questions. But he told The Bee that the FBI sweep "was all because of a stupid phone call someone made against the Hayat family. Hamid told me someone called the FBI to make up a story because they have something against him."

Zafar Khan added that the Hayats went to the FBI voluntarily.

Umer Hayat's longtime neighbor, Les Kolb, said the father, also known as Mike, held Muslim meetings at his home and was always cordial. In more than 10 years, Kolb said, "There was never a problem."

Both Hayats - who are U.S. citizens - made frequent trips to Pakistan, according to friends and relatives. Umer Hayat, who has been in the United States 25 years, was described as a humorous fellow who drives an ice cream van.

Even more shocking was the news that the two imams - both candidates for the mosque's leadership - had been detained.

"They're in America just because they're poor," said Sayed Mohsin, 32, a freelance photographer who watched FBI officials searching one of the imam's homes. "They're trying to have a better life. The last thing they would ever do is something illegal or bad."

Mohsin said the biggest concern is that Pakistani Americans in Lodi are afraid to speak out for their rights. "Everyone's afraid. They think if they say something, the government will take them away and put them in a camp."

Lodi attorney Randy Rosa, who has been friends with both imams for years, said: "The thought that either one of these gentlemen would be a threat to America seems inconceivable to me. They are loyal, decent, dignified citizens of this town."

Rosa, who helped organize an interfaith project called "Celebration of Abraham," said that while America does have legitimate security concerns, if federal authorities have arrested the religious leaders, "they'd better have pretty doggone substantial evidence."

Rosa's comments were echoed by several community leaders, including Dr. Hamza El-Nakhal of the Islamic Center in Davis.

"Adil (Khan) is a very good guy. He's been in the ommunity for a long, long time," El-Nakhal said. "There's no way for him to be al-Qaida."

Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento Valley chapter of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), said Khan was one of several local Muslim leaders who previously met with the FBI to discuss security issues. "They've got nothing on those guys," Elkarra said. "This has happened before - if they don't like them, they'll get them on immigration violations. We will fight to make sure that everyone's civil liberties are upheld."

About the writer:

  • Emily Bazar can be reached at (916) 321-1016 or Staff writers Carrie Peyton Dahlberg and Elizabeth Hume contributed to this report.