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A week spent scrambling for the truth

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Posted: Friday, June 10, 2005 10:00 pm | Updated: 10:49 am, Tue Jun 26, 2012.

Purported links to al-Qaida, a string of arrests, a deluge of national media, lots of jokes about ice cream trucks, and through it all, at least in our newsroom, a crazy, adrenalized scramble for the truth.

What a week it was.

Here are random notes after some amazing days in our community.

A march to Vets Plaza: A friend this week suggested the best thing local Muslims could do is organize a flag-waving march to the all-vets plaza next to the Carnegie Forum for a "We Love America" rally. It would likely get great coverage, help with positive perceptions, and give us all something to feel good -- or at least better -- about.

Richard Hanner

Anybody listening?

Another friend sends a message with a different point: "Oh, I see. Iran, Iraq, South Korea and Lodi -- the axis of evil!"

He was kidding, I think.

All the news that's unfit: Shame on the New York Times. The paper found it necessary to state that one of the five Lodi suspects has been watched since 9/11 by federal authorities who believed early on that he might be capable of building a terrorist cell. The only charge against the Lodi man so far: An immigration violation.

The source of the Times' report: anonymous.

So much damage, so little accountability.

I have said it before and will repeat it: A reporter's willingness to be (recklessly?) critical of someone is dictated in part by his or her likelihood of running into that person after work or on weekends in Raley's produce section.

So is al-Qaida in lodi, or what?: A friend asked me that question. What's the answer? Who really knows? If you read the affidavit submitted by the FBI (it's posted on our Web site, lodinews.com) it's downright damning for ice cream trucker Umer Hayat and his son, Hamid.

The gist: As a boy, Hamid, 22, went to a madrassah, or religious school, in Pakistan run by his grandfather. This school, among other things, apparently grooms young men to be terrorists. After wrapping up at the madrassah, many students, including Hamid, have progressed to a terrorist training camp, also in Pakistan, supported by al-Qaida. (Sounds sort of like a finishing school for terrorists.) Camp Terror is apparently operated by a close friend of the same grandpa who runs the madrassah.

Not only did the elder Hayat knowingly ship his son to Osama's boot camp, he allegedly paid him a $100 per month allowance to learn how to destroy Americans. And at one point, Lodi's ice cream man toured several such camps himself, checking out warfare and physical training.

That's all in the affidavit, which is, for an official government document, a gripping, chilling read.

The affidavit is detailed and persuasive, but it's worth keeping this in mind: Thus far the Hayats face only a charge of lying to the FBI, and the three others are charged with immigration violations. Does that a terrorist cell make? Time will tell.

Overstatement: Some Muslims this week suggested the FBI is on a "witch hunt." Based on the detailed affidavit cited above, that characterization seems off. Still, there have been reports of the FBI being heavy-handed, whisking Lodi Muslims to Sacramento for interviews and lie detector tests and using threats of deportation.

Some Muslim leaders have asked for the FBI interviews to be done in Lodi, not Sacramento, and for Lodi police officers to be in attendance. City Manager Blair King (who was holding quite steady this week under much pressure) on Friday said the FBI is open to the idea of doing more interviews here, but is less warm to the idea of having one of Lodi's finest sit in on every session. Stay tuned.

An imam for an ice cream guy?: The media bidding and bartering over photos was fast and furious this week. Our photos of imams Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Adil Khan, shot by our crack photo team and pulled out of archives this week, were in huge demand. We did a fair amount of swapping, including sharing our imam photos to ABC/News10 in exchange for their photos of Umer and Hamid Hayat.

Many news outfits sought and won our permission. A few didn't, including Fox, who just stuck our photo on their Web site with a Fox credit line. That burns. But it all changed when a hard-charging Fox producer dropped into the News-Sentinel newsroom Thursday asking us for a … photo of an imam. Told that Fox already had one of our photos, pilfered, on its Web site, he yanked out his cell phone at barked at New York. The courtesy line was promptly added giving credit to Lodi's hometown paper -- and, yeah, we gave the producer the pic he wanted.

Speaking of media, two of our own got a bit of national exposure this week. Ross Farrow, who has covered the Lodi Muslim community with great sensitivity, spoke on CNN. Layla Bohm, ace cops and courts reporter, made an appearance on a national Fox news program. Both rose before dawn for their fleeting moments of fame and glory.

As long as we are still talking about news people, let me close with a few words about our own staff.

Everybody here delivered. Everybody. Family dinners, doctor appointments, even escrow closings, were canceled or reset. Many staffers worked 10-, 12-, 14-hour days.

I could not be more proud of these journalists.

We'll keep pushing, because this is a vital, continuing -- and very complicated -- story.

A scramble for the truth, it is.

And it shall continue.

Richard Hanner is the editor at the News-Sentinel and may be reached at richardh@lodinews.com.

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