Muslims meeting with city leaders Thursday at the Carnegie Forum expressed worries about a possible backlash against their community following the much-publicized arrests of local men on federal charges.
They are also concerned about the five Muslim men in custody and how their faith is being depicted by the media, they said.
Of the five men arrested, only one, Hamid Hayat, 22, is alleged to have attended an al-Qaida terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
The concerns come as the FBI continues its investigation into the Lodi Pakistani population, an inquiry that actually began several years ago, FBI agent John Cauthen confirmed Thursday. He added that agents were still in Lodi.
According to the FBI, Hayat lied to investigators about his involvement in the camp, and his father, Umer Hayat 47, also allegedly lied to the FBI about him paying to support his son’s activities.
The three other men, who face immigration charges, include: Shabbir Ahmed, 37, Mohammad Adil Khan, 47, and Khan’s son, Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19.
Khan is scheduled to appear in San Francisco immigration court July 1, said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.
Hamid Hayat will appear in U.S. District Court today for a bail hearing, and he and his father are both scheduled to return to court June 21.
No dates have yet been set for Khan’s son or Shabbir Ahmed.
Most of the men are in custody at the Sacramento County Jail, but authorities have not disclosed where Khan and Adil are being held.
Khan and Ahmed are imams at the Lodi mosque, though some in the community have disputed Khan’s claim to the title.
The news of a local resident with an alleged al-Qaida connection has rocked Lodi, hitting the tight-knit Muslim community especially hard and touching off a media blizzard.
Lodi Mayor John Beckman addresses the press after a meeting with members of the local Muslim community, which lasted several hours at Carnegie Forum on Thursday. (Dan Evans/News-Sentinel)
Under the gaze of eight video cameras, several still photographers and dozens of reporters, members of the Muslim community and city officials walked out of Carnegie Forum at 4 p.m. Wednesday to comment on the situation.
The meetings with city officials, which lasted several hours, were “productive” said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Central Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. But he added the continuing investigation by the FBI has Lodi’s Muslims worried.
In fact, earlier in the day, Elkarra described the FBI’s investigation a “witchhunt” that has the Muslim community fearful.
He said he has heard of six Lodi Muslims who were questioned by the FBI, and during those interviews he said some were threatened with deportation and others underwent a lie detector test.
When asked to name those people, Elkarra said he neither knew their names nor would he release them to the press if he did.
FBI Agent Cauthen said all agents taking part in the Lodi investigation attended meetings and had training sessions about “cultural sensitivities.”
“Those (trainings) are above and beyond what was normal,” he said. “In the normal course of our investigations we are conscious of civil rights.”
Taj Khan spoke during a press conference following the afternoon meeting with city officials, saying that he expects the ongoing situation will make Lodi a stronger community. Khan is a columnist for the News-Sentinel.
He said Lodi’s Muslims are a strong element of the community and will not be intimidated. If anyone attempts to retaliate for one person’s involvement with terrorists, Kahn said local Muslims will “stand together and fight them.”
Basim Elkarra, of the Council on America Islamic Relations, speaks to the media about the meeting with Lodi Mayor John Beckman and other Islamic community members at the Carnegie Forum on Thursday. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)
Lodi Mayor John Beckman said the city has been working with Muslims to let them know how to handle the media pressure and to reassure them that the local police department will work to protect them from any possible intimidation.
To that end, Beckman said he agreed to a request by the Muslim community that the Lodi Police Department ask the FBI to conduct any future interviews at the Lodi Police Department with a local police officer present.
Beckman said the FBI has been informed of the request, but as yet has not taken the city up on it.
Lodi Police Capt. Larry Manetti, who is acting as chief while Jerry Adams is out of town, said: “At this point we haven’t had any reports of misconduct of any kind against the Muslim community.”
Though police were out in force and were patrolling regularly near the Poplar Street mosque, no extra officers had been called in, Det. Dale Eubanks said.
Instead, officers were told to drive near the area in between their regular calls for service.
“No one has called of suspicious reports and activity,” he said. We have a good working relationship with the FBI. If there was something targeted, they would notify us.”
Eubanks and Manetti both said they had heard of no possible threats against the city from terrorists, and they hoped Muslims would not feel threatened.
“The Muslim community is supportive of the city, and they’re law-abiding citizens. It’s just like apples, a couple bad ones shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch,” Eubanks said.
He encouraged anyone who sees suspicious activity, such as vandalism of Muslim property, to call Lodi police.
“Obviously, if somebody decides that they need to take matters into their hands, they will be dealt with by the police department,” he said.
Malik Ahmad, a mosque committee member, said he can understand the fear people may have when they hear a local resident has been tied to al-Qaida. But he said that does not excuse the media from inflating coverage before the FBI finishes its investigation.
“It’s like a campaign against Muslims,” he said.
News-Sentinel reporter Layla Bohm contributed to this report.