|California town shaken by terrorism arrests
Associated Press | June 9, 2005
By DON THOMPSON
LODI, Calif. - For nearly a century, Pakistanis have been a part of this farming town. Today, they account for about 2,500 of Lodi's more than 62,000 residents. Pakistan's Independence Day - Aug. 14 - is celebrated just like the Fourth of July. 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, alleges several people committed to al-Qaida 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,'" said Mayor John Beckman, describing Pakistani-Americans as "a very vibrant, healthy part of the community."
Authorities say Hamid Hayat, 22, returned last year after training in an al-Qaida terrorist camp and planned to attack hospitals and supermarkets in the United States. His father, Umer Hayat, is alleged to have paid for his son's training at a clandestine Pakistani 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."
Les Kolb, 67, who lives across the street in the working-class neighborhood, said he talked with Hayat a few days ago about the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Your people over there are killing each other off," Kolb recalled saying. "He said, 'I know, it's crazy.'"
Umer Hayat's nephew, 19-year-old Usama Ismail, blames feuds brought over from Pakistani villages for stirring investigators' interest, but denies his cousin was involved in any terror training.
"It's been a really nice neighborhood, even after Sept. 11," Ismail said. "Now they're going to be saying, 'Terrorists are in Lodi.'"
The allegations may have triggered distrust in the community. Beckman said he saw four white men harassing a Pakistani boy the day the federal investigation was announced. He's meeting with religious leaders to try to discourage any hate crimes.
A local Islamic leader defended the community Wednesday as reporters descended on the town.
"We are a peace-loving people," said Taj Kahn, of the Islamic Cultural Center. "We have never done anything to violate the laws of the United States, and we don't intend to."tion of Petroleum Exporting Countries.