Residents in Lodi had hoped to set aside the suspicions that divided them in the 11 months since federal agents arrested a young man, his father and two Muslim religious leaders amid terrorism allegations.
But the government’s chief prosecutor said Wednesday that the investigation is continuing — a day after a federal jury convicted 23-year-old Hamid Hayat of providing material support to terrorists by attending a training camp in Pakistan in 2003 and lying about it to the FBI.
U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott is considering seeking a new trial for Hayat’s father, Umer, 48, after a separate jury deadlocked Tuesday on whether he lied to FBI agents to protect his son.
The investigation has also resulted in two clerics and another man being deported to Pakistan for immigration violations.
But that might not be the last of the charges facing Lodi residents, Scott said after Hamid Hayat’s conviction and Umer Hayat’s mistrial were announced.
“Certainly there are people of interest to us,” Scott said, declining to elaborate in a telephone interview Wednesday. He referred questions to FBI agents, who also said the probe was continuing but refused to give more details.
“There are aspects of this (case) which remain under investigation,” said Drew Parenti, the agent in charge of the Sacramento office.
Lodi Mayor Susan Hitchcock and police Capt. Gary Benincasa said the FBI has not shared any additional suspicions with them, and neither has seen indications of terror-related activity.
Scott’s comment about a continuing investigation “reopens an old wound,” aggravating suspicions of and within the Muslim community that had just begun to heal, said Hitchcock.
“This is going to cause everyone unease,” she said. “I hope they’re speaking from real knowledge, not just hearsay or something like that, because the city of Lodi is ready to move on. This is not something we want to be known for. We want to be known for our fine wines.”
The FBI began looking at Lodi Muslims because of the activities of two clerics at the local mosque.
“The original, the first thing that drew our interest was the two religious leaders in Lodi,” Scott said. One had given anti-American speeches after 9-11, the other’s father led a suspicious religious school in Pakistan.
“Now, whether there was some plan afoot directly linked to them, I don’t know that we’ll ever know that,” Scott said. “But I do know that they were there, they had extremist views, (and) we now have a jury that has found beyond a reasonable doubt that a member of that mosque went to Pakistan and took training and came back to this country with the intent to kill Americans.”
The Hayats were secondary targets of the investigation, developed after the FBI recruited an informant to infiltrate the 2,500-member Pakistani community in Lodi, 35 miles south of Sacramento.
Both U.S. citizens, Umer Hayat sold ice cream from a battered van while his son held a seasonal job packing cherries.
“We just want them both to come home. His (Hamid’s) mom has cried too much,” Sahana Khatab, Umer Hayat’s sister-in-law, said at the family’s home in a converted garage. “We’re just sad. The whole family’s sad. We’re just sitting down and praying for them.”
Some Lodi residents said they were relieved by the verdicts but disconcerted that there might be other terrorism-related activity in their quiet agricultural community.
“I strongly believe that there are (terrorist) ties here. But I think there are ties all over — they just got caught here,” said Holli Eddy outside a local supermarket.
Grocery stores, along with banks and hospitals, were among places Hamid Hayat said he might target as he gave an hours-long videotaped statement to the FBI in June.
Mac Garcia, who retired as a Lodi policeman and San Joaquin County investigator, said he doesn’t believe there is a terrorist cell, but he can’t help but be suspicious of his neighbors nonetheless.
“You see a Muslim person and just think twice because of this. It’s going to linger for a long time,” Garcia said.
While investigators need to be thorough, “I’m kind of concerned it might make it look like there’s a lot of them (terrorists) here, and I just don’t believe that. There might be some sympathizers, but I don’t believe there’s that kind of activity.”
Malik Mukhtiar Ahmad, a member of the mosque’s board, welcomed a continuing investigation because he said there is nothing to hide.
“That’s their job, that’s what they’re paid for,” he said, referring to FBI agents. “If they want to dig deeper, that’s their right.”
Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said if there were terrorist activity in Lodi, the FBI’s 4 1/2-year probe would have found it.
He is concerned that the continuing investigation could include covert surveillance of innocent Muslims, sending another informant to infiltrate the community or the sort of interrogation he believes entrapped Hamid Hayat into making incriminating admissions while seeking to please FBI agents.
“Given the current fear and hysteria, it’s not surprising that someone was convicted without any material proof,” Elkarra said. “You’ve got someone who was naive and gullible .... The informant took him down a path and there was no turning back.”
Defense attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi said she will seek a new trial before Hayat’s July 14 sentencing, when he faces at least 30 years in prison if prosecutors prevail on legal issues that will determine his sentence.
“Hamid Hayat never attended a terrorist training camp. This fight is not over,” Mojaddidi said.