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Suspect's priorities called job, marriage

Hamid Hayat's mother scoured the Pakistani village of Behboodi for a proper wife for her son, and when he was married late last year, villagers shot off fireworks to celebrate, family members say.

Hamid Hayat was returning to Lodi on May 29 to look for a job and make immigration arrangements for his new wife. He didn't make much progress.

On Saturday, FBI agents arrested Hayat and his father, Umer Hayat, an ice cream truck driver, on charges of lying to federal officials about their involvement with an al-Qaida training camp in Pakistan.

Family members have insisted the two men are innocent and have deflected inquiries from FBI agents who saturated their neighborhood.

A day after the FBI said Hamid Hayat confessed to returning to the United States to carry out a jihadist mission "to kill Americans," relatives described him as a man poised to step into life as a husband and religious leader.

His father, Umer Hayat, 47, is accused of paying for his son to attend the camp and then later lying about it. Relatives described him as a humorous and opinionated man.

"They're regular people. They've never talked against their own country," said Usama Ismail, 19, Hamid Hayat's cousin. "They've never said, 'I want to hurt anyone, I want to kill anyone.' They're not that kind of people. They're warm-hearted people."

Ismail and another of Hamid Hayat's cousins said he played cricket and liked to watched the game.

They described him as slender and frail - prone to nosebleeds in the dry heat. He also wore a beard, his cousins said, to signify his devotion to Islam.

Ismail said Hamid Hayat was one to follow rather than lead, and he spent years waffling between goals while working as a forklift driver and truck driver. He held down a seasonal job in Lodi at Delta Packaging, which packs and ships cherries across the United States and to the Pacific Rim. In Pakistan, he had a job molding garbage cans.

"He didn't know how to live his life, so he saw how everyone else was living it," Ismail said. "He didn't know what he wanted to be."

Hamid Hayat was born in September 1982 in San Joaquin County.

He attended Lakewood Elementary School before moving to his family's village in Pakistan when he was 9.

He stayed there nine years, came back to the tightly knit Pakistani community in east Lodi, and in April 2003 returned to the village.

According to neighbors, Hamid Hayat kept a low profile when he was in Lodi.

Nadim Khan, 21, said that as children, the two played cricket at Blakely Park, a few blocks from the Hayats' home. Khan lost track of his friend a few years ago.

"He went to Pakistan to memorize and study the Quran," said Khan, who works at the Boys and Girls Club. "He was very serious about that, but I can't believe he would be involved in what the FBI is saying he's involved in."

Hamid Hayat's cousin Sohel Altaf, 17, said he lived with relatives several houses away from Hamid in the village of Behboodi last summer.

"Everyone's like our family there," he said, noting that many of their extended relatives live there. "We're treated very nicely - special because we're from America."

Altaf said the men are served special rice dishes and invited to weddings and family functions when in the village.

Behboodi is about 2 miles wide and filled with bustling outdoor malls and concrete houses with marble floors. Small cars hurtle down the streets.

Ismail spent more than three years in the village with his cousin, returning to Lodi this spring.

Ismail said he was constantly with his cousin in Pakistan and can't imagine how he could have had time to attend a terrorist camp.

"All he could talk about was cricket," he said. "I never even heard him talk about politics."

But FBI agents clearly were searching for evidence of terrorist connections when they combed the Hayats' yellow clapboard home Tuesday. Family said the FBI took phone cards, home videos, Islamic books, video games and the gold jewelry Hamid's sister was given when she recently married.

Agents also broke into the garage next to the house because no one who had a key was home during the search, Altaf said. Teens play video games in the garage, and the family stores extra clothing there, he said, but agents suggested the family was hiding someone there.

Altaf was at the house after the arrests, when Hamid Hayat called his mother from the Sacramento County Main Jail. Hayat told a relative that agents had confused him, put words in his mouth and went between him and his father with varying allegations, Altaf said.

"They were trying to mix up their stories and confuse both of them," Altaf said. "I can't believe they could do something like this. They want to make a case on (Hamid), but they can't."

Family and neighbors were equally incredulous about the allegations against Umer Hayat, the man they know as "Homer."

Felipe Martinez, 56, was once Umer Hayat's tenant. He rented the small house in front of the Hayats' for nearly five years and said Umer Hayat's beige ice cream truck was a summertime fixture in the neighborhood.

"They are good, normal people," said Martinez, who bought a house a block from the Hayats. "There were times when I didn't have the money to pay the rent on time, and Mr. Hayat always told me, 'Don't worry, pay me when you can, I know you will.' I just don't see how he, or his son, could be part of anything like this."

Ismail said his uncle did not seem alarmed when FBI vehicles first began surveillance within days of Hamid Hayat's return from Pakistan. Umer Hayat warned the young men not to drive too fast; Ismail suspected the FBI was looking for more than speeding tickets.

About the writer:

  • The Bee's Christina Jewett can be reached at (916) 321-1201 or Bee staff writer Lesli A. Maxwell contributed to this report.