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Lodi terror inquiry spurs documentary

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Posted: Sunday, October 8, 2006 10:00 pm

When two Muslim religious leaders and a Lodi father and son were arrested last year during a terrorism investigation, it brought out the nation’s top law enforcers and captured the attention of the national media.

The case also interested journalist Lowell Bergman, who is perhaps best known for his investigation of the tobacco industry, which ultimately led to the film “The Insider,” with Al Pacino portraying Bergman.

Bergman has been covering terrorism for years and began working on a larger investigation involving post-9/11 cases, using the Lodi case of Umer and Hamid Hayat as the backbone. His Hour-long documentary, including footage from Lodi and interviews with various top U.S. intelligence experts, debuts Tuesday night on PBS’ Frontline.

The Lodi case ultimately takes up about 27 minutes of the 51-minute show, according to a preview copy of the documentary. It airs locally at 10 p.m. on KVIE’s channel 6.

“What always intrigued me in the wake of 9/11 was that all the investigations concluded that there were no willing contributors here (in the United States). Why is that?” Bergman said Friday.

“They say, ‘al-Qaida in Lodi,’ and I think the general public gets very confused about what’s going on. So this is an effort to raise the question of what’s going on,” he said.

Bergman, who has lived for more than three decades in Berkeley and teaches journalism there, spent months working simultaneously on both the Frontline piece and a New York Times article also scheduled to run Tuesday. He went to Washington to interview terrorism experts, talked to Lodi resident Umer Hayat after he was released from jail and watched hours of videotaped interviews Umer and Hamid Hayat gave the FBI.

The end result is a show, titled “The Enemy Within,” that opens with a plane landing. A narrator speaks: “Since 9/11, America has been on alert, in fear of another attack. For five years, the fear has gripped our cities. Could there be another sleeper cell in our midst?”

Ten minutes into the show, grapevines come into view. Traffic speeds down Highway 99 past a green sign that reads, “Lodi Next 3 Exits.” The scene shifts to the Lodi arch in downtown and captures pedestrians pushing a stroller, and children jumping into a swimming pool.

Bergman begins the story of FBI informant Nasim Khan, who came to Lodi in December 2001 and soon worked his way into the city’s Pakistani community. He targeted the two imams at the local mosque, then began making friends with some of the younger people.

Hamid Hayat was 19 and soon Khan was almost like a family member. Khan secretly recorded some of their conversations and, in tapes later played in federal court, he encouraged Hamid Hayat to attend a training camp when he took a trip to Pakistan.

When Hamid Hayat, who was born in Stockton, returned to the United States last summer, the FBI interviewed him. They wanted to speak further, so he and his father went to the FBI’s Sacramento office in early June 2005. Hours later, both were arrested on suspicion of lying to the FBI, and officials said the case was tied to al-Qaida.

As the narrator said on the Frontline show, “The news reverberated around the world,” as satellite trucks arrived in Lodi and broadcast the news for hours on end.

Umer and Hamid Hayat went on trial in February, and two months later a federal jury deadlocked on Umer Hayat’s two charges of lying to the FBI. A separate jury convicted Hamid Hayat of providing material support to terrorism and of three counts of lying to the FBI.

Umer Hayat ultimately pleaded guilty to lying in an unrelated matter not connected to terrorism, and was sentenced to time already spent in jail. Hamid Hayat faces up to 39 years in prison, and his case is on appeal.

But there was never any proof that al-Qaida had ties to Lodi, and Bergman interviewed current and former terrorism experts on the matter. He also talked to U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott, whose Eastern District prosecuted the Hayats, and in the Frontline show acknowledges that officials were quick to connect Lodi and al-Qaida.

Among those featured in the documentary are James Wedick, the Hayats’ defense expert who spent more than 30 years with the FBI and throughout the case questioned the agents’ techniques.

Bergman, who previously worked for “60 Minutes” for years, acknowledged that there was too much information to get everything in one show, but said his goal was to ask questions about how national security has changed in the five years after 9/11.

“You hear ‘Lodi and al-Qaida,’ and it’s just a mystery,” he said. “People are scared. We probably should be scared, but you can’t live in fear all the time so it’s an attempt to put some rational reasoning into it.”

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