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Imam admits criticizing U.S.

Setting it straight: A story on Page A1 Saturday used an incorrect date. Attorney Johnny Griffin III, who is representing Umer Hayat, a Lodi man accused of having links to terrorist activities, is pushing to go to trial Aug. 29.

SAN FRANCISCO - Shabbir Ahmed, an imam at the Lodi mosque targeted in a federal terrorism investigation, Friday admitted he gave speeches encouraging Muslims in Pakistan to "pressure Americans to stop bombing" the Taliban in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But at an initial immigration hearing in San Francisco, where he is fighting charges he overstayed his visa, Ahmed denied he urged Pakistanis to defend Osama bin Laden or attack Americans.

Ahmed, 39, said his attitudes about America quickly changed after he moved to California.

"Having come here I see human value and respect for human life - even animals are taken care of here," he said. "When I saw such a picture my mind changed."

He said he now regrets making anti-American speeches. "Now I know what the truth is," he said. "I think there is justice here and everyone is respected. Even though I went to jail, at no time was I disrespected or dishonored."

Ahmed and his former madrassah (religious school) teacher in Pakistan, Muhammed Adil Khan, and Khan's son, Mohammad Hassan Adil, are being held on immigration violations without bond. The government is looking for a connection between them and two Lodi men linked to terrorist activities - ice-cream man Umer Hayat, 47, and his son, Hamid Hayat, 22.

Last week, federal authorities indicted the Hayats for allegedly lying about Hamid's attendance at an al-Qaida training camp in Pakistan. The Hayats, through their attorney, have denied the charges, and the Pakistani government insists there are no al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan.

At Friday's immigration hearing, Paul Nishiie, assistant chief counsel for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, tried to persuade Immigration Judge Anthony S. Murry not to release Ahmed on bond.

Nishiie claimed that in an FBI interview several weeks ago, Ahmed admitted giving five public speeches in which he "encouraged people to go to Afghanistan to defend Osama, to defend the Taliban and kill Americans."

Nishiie outlined this time frame: "It starts Sept. 11, 2001. A month later, the U.S. invades Afghanistan. In November and December, we have you giving the speeches in Islamabad - and in January 2002, you arrive in Lodi, California, to be an imam at the the mosque."

Ahmed defended himself, saying: "I simply said to try to pressure Americans to stop bombing."

Nishiie asked: "Didn't people riot after your speeches?"

Ahmed, responding in Urdu through an interpreter conceded: "Temporarily, people get excited and the spirit goes on. ... I was not the only speaker."

Under questioning from Nishiie, Ahmed said he spent seven years at Jamia Farooqia, a large madrassah in Karachi founded by Adil Khan's father, before becoming an imam in Islamabad.

The husky, bearded Ahmed - who said he taught at the madrassah for three years - acknowledged the school sent guerrillas to Afghanistan to wage jihad against the Russians, who occupied the country from 1979 to 1989.

Nishiie produced a magazine article about the Jamia Farooqia school that, he claimed, said the school preaches jihad (a divinely inspired defense against enemies of Islam).

"Well, if someone attacks you, you protect yourself," Ahmed responded, adding that the training was self-defense training in judo and karate.

Nishiie seemingly conceded that point, but claimed that documents show bin Laden himself once thanked the scholars at the school for their support.

Ahmed, who said he'd never met bin Laden, responded, "It does not mean all the ulemas (scholars) in the organization were included - it could mean he was talking about the many students from Afghanistan" during the Soviet occupation.

Ahmed's attorney, Saad Ahmed (no relation), said his client promoted interfaith harmony in California and has never participated in terrorist activities or terrorist organizations. In an interview with The Bee, he said Ahmed and Adil Khan - whom he also represents - are men of peace who "have never gone and fought anywhere." He added that the Lodi Muslim Mosque, under Ahmed and Adil Khan's direction, became one of the first mosques in California to allow Jewish and Christian religious leaders to speak.

Attorney Ahmed also noted most of the world, including the United States, supported the Taliban and bin Laden in their struggle to oust the Russians from Afghanistan.

Shabbir Ahmed's hearing to be released on bond is scheduled to resume Aug. 2. His trial on immigration charges is scheduled for Oct. 24.

At a separate hearing Friday in federal court in Sacramento, the government agreed to immediately give the Hayats' defense attorneys a key piece of evidence against them - Hamid Hayat's videotaped confession.

The government claims Hamid Hayat, 22, admitted training at a Pakistani camp to learn "how to kill Americans." Prosecutors say he initially denied, then admitted, and now denies being trained as a terrorist.

Prosecutors also claim his father at first denied, then admitted, and now denies his son's involvment in terrorist training.

Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Steven Lapham also promised he would immediately give the defense a copy of an FBI affidavit in support of a search of the Hayats' home in Lodi.

Nowinski granted Lapham's motion for a protective order prohibiting Umer Hayat's attorney, Johnny Griffin III, and Hamid Hayat's attorney, Wazhna Mojaddidi, from sharing the contents of the tape and the affidavit with anyone except retired FBI agent James Wedick, who has been hired as a defense investigator by Griffin.

It was Griffin who made the successful demand for the evidence against his client before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter A. Nowinski.

Griffin has also demanded any other evidence against his client, presenting the prosecution with a list of 40 federal agencies that may or may not have information on the Hayats.

Griffin added that he is very curious about how Hamid Hayat's name wound up on the United States "no fly" list of persons not allowed on commercial aircraft.

Hamid Hayat's May 29 flight from Pakistan to San Francisco was rerouted to Tokyo so the FBI could pull Hayat off the plane and question him.

Griffin also wants to know why the FBI adjusted Hayat's status so he could resume his trip to San Francisco.

In an unprecedented move, Griffin is pushing for a quick trial, which he hopes will begin Aug. 9.

Nowinski set another hearing Monday on the volume of evidence and the speed in which it must be delivered to the defense.


Key figures

Hamid Hayat

Age 22. Born in San Joaquin County.

Pleaded not guilty in federal court to lying to federal agents about training at al-Qaida camp in Pakistan.

Being held in Sacramento County jail.

Umer Hayat

Age 47. Father of Hamid Hayat.

Pleaded not guilty to charges he lied to federal agents about his son's al-Qaida involvement and about his own financing of the terrorist camp.

Being held in Sacramento County jail.

Muhammed Adil Khan

Age 47

Imam at the Lodi Muslim Mosque; working to open a religious school in Lodi to teach Muslims.

Being held on immigration violation in the Santa Clara County jail.

Immigration hearing set for Friday in San Francisco.

Shabbir Ahmed

Age 39

Working with Khan to open religious school.

Being held on immigration violation in the Sacramento County jail.

Immigration hearing began Friday and will continue on Aug. 2.

Mohammad Hassan Adil

Age 19. Son of Muhammed Adil Khan.

Being held on immigration violation in the Sacramento County jail.

Immigration hearing set for Wednesday.

About the writer:

  • The Bee's Dorothy Korber can be reached at (916) 321-1061 or dkorber@sacbee.com. This report was written by Stephen Magagnini, who reported from Sacramento. Korber reported from San Francisco; Denny Walsh reported from Sacramento.
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