- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

LODI, Calif. (AP) — For nearly a century, Pakistanis have been a part of this farming town.

Today, they account for 2,500 of Lodi’s more than 62,000 residents. Pakistan’s Independence Day — Aug. 14 — is celebrated just like the Fourth of July.

And when the nation came together to heal after September 11, Islamic leaders in Lodi joined rabbis and priests and pastors in signing a ‘declaration of peace.’

So it’s no wonder that a terrorism investigation leading to the arrests of a father and son has shaken Lodi to its core. Keith Slotter, head of the FBI’s central California office, asserts that several people with al Qaeda ties have been operating in and around the tranquil wine-growing region just south of Sacramento.

‘We don’t want the new slogan to be, ‘Come to Lodi and taste our wines and meet our terrorists,” Mayor John Beckman said.

Authorities say Hamid Hayat, 22, returned last year after training in an al Qaeda terrorist camp in Pakistan and planned to attack hospitals and supermarkets in the United States. His father, Umer Hayat, is purported to have paid for his son’s training at the camp. Both are charged with lying to investigators.

Three local Muslims, including two imams, also have been detained on immigration violations.

Umer Hayat, 47, sold treats to children from his battered ice cream van, and his son found work packing cherries grown in surrounding orchards. Neighbors said the father was always friendly, laughing and talking with the children who bought his treats. Both men are U.S. citizens.

‘They are good people,’ said Karina Murillo, whose family rented part of the elder Hayat’s house, which had been divided into two residences. ‘We never had any problems with them.’

Umer Hayat’s nephew, 19-year-old Usama Ismail, blames feuds brought over from Pakistani villages for stirring investigators’ interest. He denies that his cousin was involved in any terror training.

‘It’s been a really nice neighborhood, even after September 11,’ Mr. Ismail said. ‘Now they’re going to be saying, ‘Terrorists are in Lodi.”

The accusations may have triggered distrust in the community. Mr. Beckman said he saw four white men harassing a Pakistani boy the day the federal investigation was announced. He is meeting with religious leaders to try to discourage any hate crimes.

Some in the community think the federal investigation had roots in a split in Lodi’s Islamic community over fundamentalism versus integration into the American mainstream. The rift spurred a leadership struggle at a mosque and led it to sue in March over construction of an Islamic center that it had initially sponsored.

‘It may well be that some of this is gamesmanship, but we are talking about the FBI and INS, and they don’t do this lightly. At least I hope they don’t,’ said attorney Gary Nelson, who represents the Islamic center.

The FBI called such speculation inaccurate. ‘This specific investigation has been going on for several years,’ FBI spokesman John Cauthen said.

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