Muslims in and around Lodi on Wednesday called on fellow residents to withhold judgment on the local Pakistani men jailed on federal charges.
“In a post-9/11 world, the mention of al-Qaida gets fear rising up on the back of people’s necks,” said Brian Chavez-Ochoa. “But an open mind needs to be exercised — let the system work its justice.”
Hamid Hayat, 22, is accused of training at an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan. His father, 47-year-old Umer Hayat, is charged with lying about his son’s involvement and allegedly financing the terrorist training camp his son allegedly attended. Two clerics, Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Adil Khan were taken into custody on immigration charges. Late Wednesday, federal officials confirmed that Khan’s son, Mohammad Hassan Adil, 19, has also been taken into custody for immigration violations.
Members of the area’s Muslim community said they were stunned to hear of the allegations.
“It is just shocking for all of us,” said Pamela Parvez, who knows Khan through preparations for an Islamic center he planned to build in Lodi. Speaking of the two mosque leaders, she said: “I don’t believe they’re involved in terrorist activities or would teach violence.”
She does not personally know either of the Hayats.
Others in Lodi’s Muslim community found it hard to believe that any of their fellow Muslims in Lodi would support a terrorist organization, much less attend a camp to learn to kill Americans, of which the younger Hayat is suspected.
“The majority of the people I know love this country, and that’s why we immigrated here” said Taj Khan, a member of the board trying to build a new Islamic center, and a columnist for the News-Sentinel. “We chose to be here ... so we may love it more than some U.S. citizens.”
Many members of the local Muslim community are U.S. citizens, said Chavez-Ochoa, an attorney speaking for several members of that community. For those members to support terrorist activity is to advocate against the way of life they chose to live in this country, Chavez-Ochoa said.
Obed Rahman, who is from Umer Hayat’s home village of Behboodi, said he does not believe the charges against the elder Hayat.
“I’m thinking they are under pressure or something. I never heard of anything going on like this,” said Rahman, imam of a mosque in Stockton. “Our people are very peaceful people.”
Lodi resident Taj Khan listens to questions by local media Wednesday at the Lodi News-Sentinel. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)
Hamid Hayat’s cousin, Usama Ismail, 19, dismissed allegations that his cousin attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
Ismail, who lives down the street from his cousin and uncle, said Hamid Hayat two years ago left the United States for Behboodi. There, he began building a house to live in with the woman who would be his wife through an arranged marriage, Ismail said.
The pair were married in Pakistan late last year, said Ismail, who attended the wedding.
The younger Hayat returned to the United States May 29 and days after took a job at Delta Packing Co. in Lodi, where Ismail works. For two days last week Hamid Hayat sorted cherries alongside Ismail, Ismail said. His plan was to get a job so he could sponsor his wife and have her move to the United States as soon as possible, Ismail said.
Ismail denied his cousin was at a terrorist training camp and said he must have said something that was taken out of context after “hours and hours” of interrogation.
“I think he might have said something and it was taken the wrong way,” Ismail said.
Ismail said he believes someone with a grudge against his uncle called the FBI and gave them a false tip about his uncle and nephew.
Khan and Chavez-Ochoa said the public should let justice take its course.
“I think we believe in the American justice system and we have to give it chance,” Khan said.
Contacted by phone Wednesday, Robina Ashgar, a community leader and a member of the Lodi Improvement Committee, questioned the media’s intentions in asking how the local Muslim community is reacting to news of the allegations and arrests.
“Nobody cares about the Muslim community anyway,” Ashgar said. “The Lodi Muslim community is feeling stressed and isolated.”
Ashgar declined further comment.
Karina Murillo, whose sister has rented a home from Umer Hayat for more than two years, said the Hayat men were, “quiet ... they kept to themselves.”
The elder Hayat was friendly and would use what little Spanish he knew to communicate with Murillo’s sister. Hamid Hayat was less talkative, Murillo said.
Some nights four to five Pakistani youths close to the younger Hayat’s age would come to his house, Murillo said. The group would talk in their native tongue through the night and into the next morning, she said.