SAN FRANCISCO - A federal immigration judge Tuesday denied bond to Shabbir Ahmed, the erstwhile imam of the Lodi Muslim Mosque who is fighting deportation to his native Pakistan.
"I'm compelled to find you both a flight risk and a danger to the community," Judge Anthony S. Murray told Ahmed, who is being held in the Sacramento County jail for overstaying his religious visa, which expired earlier this year.
Murray's decision came after Gary Schaaf, lead FBI agent in the Lodi terrorism investigation, testified that he believes Ahmed came to California in 2002 - weeks after bad-mouthing the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan - to help recruit young Muslims for jihad, or holy war, against the United States.
Ahmed, 39, and his mentor, Muhammed Adil Khan - a Pakistani Islamic teacher who preceded Ahmed as imam in Lodi - were planning to open a religious school and Islamic center in Lodi they said would be open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
But Schaaf testified, "Our investigation has come across information that the (planned Lodi) madrassah is part of a long-term plan, similar to madrassahs in Pakistan, during which students would be spotted and assessed and maybe eventually be ready to commit acts of violence in the U.S."
Ahmed, at his first immigration hearing in June, admitted he gave speeches in Pakistan encouraging Muslims to "pressure Americans to stop bombing" Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but denied he had urged Pakistanis to kill Americans.
Tuesday, he also denied telling Pakistanis to defend Osama bin Laden, adding, "It's absolutely wrong whatever he's doing - Islam doesn't allow it."
Speaking through an Urdu interpreter, Ahmed described himself as a minor figure in Pakistan, and said many more prominent clerics spoke out against America during the emotionally charged weeks after Sept. 11.
The crux of the government's allegations against Ahmed so far seem to rest on statements by two Pakistani Americans from Lodi who since have recanted.
Schaaf said Lodi ice cream vendor Umer Hayat, 47, and his son Hamid, 22, outlined Ahmed's role in an al-Qaida network that stretches to Osama bin Laden.
The Hayats, both American citizens, are being held on charges of lying to the FBI about Hamid Hayat's alleged stint at a terrorist training camp near Rawalpindi in northern Pakistan.
The Hayats at first denied there were any such camps, but after Hamid Hayat flunked a polygraph test in June, he gave a videotaped confession describing the three to six months he spent at a camp in 2004, where he learned, "among other things, how to kill Americans," Schaaf said.
After the FBI showed Umer Hayat a snippet of his son's confession, he admitted paying for Hamid's trip to the camp and added that he'd toured several other terrorist training camps, Schaaf said.
The Hayats now reject their confessions. Their attorney, Johnny Griffin III, claims Hamid Hayat caved in to FBI interrogators after 16 hours of questioning.
During the FBI interview, Schaaf said, Hamid Hayat claimed that should al-Qaida call for an attack on the United States "he would receive orders from Shabbir Ahmed, who would have received orders from Adil Khan, who in turn would receive them from Maulana Fazlur Rehman."
Rehman is a leading Pakistani opposition figure linked to the Taliban, according to a flow chart introduced as evidence by the government.
Schaaf said Umer Hayat, "separate and apart from Hamid," also implicated Ahmed, saying the "word (to attack) would come from Shabbir and or Muhammed Adil Khan."
Despite the government's elaborate scenario, neither Ahmed nor Adil Khan has been charged with any terrorist-related activities. Both have been jailed without bond for two months.
Adil Khan has agreed to be deported to Pakistan rather than fight charges of overstaying his religious visa.
Tuesday, Ahmed testified he is fighting deportation because he has come to love America.
"I am living here, this is my country. Islam teaches us, love your own country - whoever is going to be against this country, I'll be against them," he said.
The government's case against the two imams has fueled an already bitter dispute over who controls the Lodi Muslim Mosque. One faction claims to have fired Ahmed in the wake of the allegations.
But Tuesday, several members of the other faction testified on Ahmed's behalf, insisting he is still their imam and that his job is waiting for him.
Ramzan Ali, who described himself as vice president of the mosque, said Ahmed "is like my own mother - he showed us how we can be the best citizens after Sept. 11. We were meeting Christians and Jews and went to many different churches."
Ali said community members in Lodi are paying for Ahmed's defense and were willing to post his bond.
Ahmed's attorney, Saad Ahmad, said he was disappointed but not surprised that his client was denied bond: "In cases involving national security, immigration judges don't want to second guess the government."
But attorney Ahmad said the government hasn't produced a shred of evidence that his client was involved in terrorist activities in the United States, except for the accounts of the Hayats, "two guys charged with lying to the FBI." He called the Hayats' allegations "absurd and preposterous" and said he would appeal the judge's decision.
Ahmed's hearing on immigration violations is scheduled for Oct. 24.
"My client has the key in his pocket - he can leave any time he wants," Ahmad said. "He wants to prove his innocence."
About the writer:
- The Bee's Stephen Magagnini can be reached at (916) 321-1072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.