New questions arose Tuesday about the credibility of an informant in the Hayat terror case when it was revealed in court that he was recruited after being contacted by FBI agents investigating a money laundering scheme.
Recent stories in the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek have also questioned the informant’s contention that he saw Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man repeatedly in Lodi in 1998 and 1999. Both publications report that Ayman al-Zawahiri was in Afghanistan, not Lodi, at the time.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that the informant, Naseem Khan, was recruited by FBI agents when they were investigating a multi-million dollar money laundering scheme. Agents looked at his computer that day in Bend, Ore., and before long, Khan was telling them he’d seen Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man at least 90 times in Lodi — attending thrice-daily prayers at the local Muslim mosque.
The agents soon recruited Khan and gave him the nickname of “Wildcat,” though he would have preferred to be called “Max.” He infiltrated Lodi’s Muslim community and, for his work, he has been paid $228,916.70 since late 2001.
Now he is the government’s star witness in the trial of a Lodi father and son accused of terrorism ties. However, Khan has come under heavy fire regarding his testimony that he saw Zawahiri in Lodi in the late 1990s.
The Los Angeles Times recently quoted security consultant Daniel Coleman, former FBI case agent for Osama bin Laden, as saying “by 1998, Zawahiri was in Afghanistan and never returned to the United States.
“He was on TV in Afghanistan in 1998.” Newsweek cited former FBI official Jack Cloonan, who called Khan’s contention “bizarre” and “seriously wrong.”
It had earlier been reported that Khan had a check fraud conviction.
Khan, 32, told a federal jury Tuesday that he’d become close friends with 23-year-old Hamid Hayat, but that he also talked a few times with the young man’s father.
What Umer Hayat, 48, didn’t know was that at least two of those conversations had been recorded. The elder Hayat sat silently in a Sacramento courtroom, listening as a translator summarized two of the conversations, both of which took place in the Hayats’ Acacia Street home.
At one point during an Aug. 20, 2003, conversation, Khan told Umer Hayat a tale about how he ran a huge computer system and could secretly send $100,000 a day to Pakistan. Umer Hayat agreed to send $4,000, but the destination isn’t mentioned in a transcript of the translation made public Tuesday. Khan testified that the money never changed hands.
Day in court
An FBI translator testified regarding two recorded conversations Umer Hayat had with a paid informant in 2003. Hayat and the informant talked about Hayat’s son, and Hayat almost agreed to send $4,000 to Pakistan. The money never changed hands.
The informant, Naseem Khan, then took the witness stand and testified that he has been paid nearly $230,000 by the FBI. He acknowledged that he offered his services to FBI agents who were investigating a money laundering scheme.
Khan also talked to the elder Hayat about Hamid Hayat’s laziness and penchant for lying. The younger Hayat had blown a job opportunity, and he once boasted to a convert that his uncle was the king of Pakistan, Khan told Umer Hayat.
So both Khan and Umer Hayat encouraged the young man to go to a madrassa, or religious school, in Pakistan. Hamid Hayat, the informant said, wanted to go “train.”
The definition of “training” is a matter of debate between prosecutors and the defense.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Ferris asked Khan what the word meant, he replied, “jihadi training camp.”
Defense attorney Johnny Griffin III, in turn, asked if a madrassa is a “school where you receive religious training.”
Khan, who frequently said he didn’t remember things and couldn’t answer questions, quickly answered and corrected Griffin: “Religious education.”
One point nobody debated was the fact that the words “terrorist” and “camp” were never mentioned in the recorded conversations with Umer Hayat.
The ice cream truck driver and father of four is charged with lying to agents about his knowledge of his son’s alleged attendance at camps, and of knowing about their existence. The younger Hayat is charged with lying to the FBI about his alleged camp attendance, and is also charged with providing material support to terrorists by attending the Pakistan camps.
The father and son are being tried together but have separate juries, and Hamid Hayat’s jury did not hear Tuesday’s testimony. Both juries return to court today.
Both Hayats were arrested in early June during an extensive FBI investigation within the city of Lodi. In the process, two Muslim religious leaders were arrested on immigration violations, and they later agreed to be deported back to Pakistan.
Griffin attempted to ask Khan about those men and his original focus of the investigation, but prosecutors objected and U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. did not allow the questions.
The defense attorney also sought to challenge Khan’s credibility, asking him if he remembered being written up by the FBI in Aug. 2002. Khan said he had no memory of the incident but that it was “possible.” Previous court testimony indicated that Khan had accessed an e-mail address and looked through drawers at the the Farooqia Islamic Center in Lodi without permission.
When Griffin asked Khan if he’d violated rules by telling friends that he was working with the FBI, Khan denied it, even when given specific names of three women. The News-Sentinel was unable to contact the women for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Khan also didn’t remember how much he’d been paid, though that amount was later revealed in court.
As for Khan’s initial contact with the FBI, Burrell prevented Griffin from asking if Khan was eager to help because he was afraid the FBI suspected him in a $2 million money laundering scheme. Khan was never arrested or charged in that case, and he merely said agents were looking for a man by the same name.
Khan did acknowledge that he had offered his services to the agents.
“I just told them if they needed help, they could give me a call,” Khan said.
The Pakistani-born man has lived in various parts of California and Oregon since the late 1990s. While in Lodi in 1998 and 1999, he later told the FBI, he saw three men who are listed on the government’s most wanted terrorist list — a claim vehemently denied by Lodi’s Muslim residents.
Khan had lived for a time in Yuba City, where he made about $3,000 a month as manager of a Weinerschnitzel restaurant. He later moved to Oregon, where he was making $2,200 a month until the FBI hired him shortly after 9/11, paying him $3,000 monthly.
He moved back to Lodi that December, then met and befriended Hamid Hayat the following summer. His monthly salary has since increased to $3,500.