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Terror allegations vanish in affidavit
Los Angeles Times
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Attorneys for a father and son arrested in Lodi in connection with a broad FBI terrorism probe plan to challenge the government case in court today over significantly differing versions of the affidavit used to charge the two men.
The first version of the affidavit released to media organizations by the Justice Department in Washington said potential terrorist targets included hospitals and groceries, and contained names of key individuals and statements about the international origins of "hundreds" of participants in alleged al-Qaida terrorist training camps in Pakistan.
These details — among the most alarming in the case — were widely reported in the news media, but then deleted in the final version filed with the federal court in Sacramento on Wednesday. Federal prosecutors blamed the problem on confusion inside the bureaucracy as different versions circulated between federal offices.
"An unfortunate oversight due to miscommunication," said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra.
Sacramento FBI spokesman John Cauthen said the deletions in the document were made because the original details were "not relevant or not accurate in context" for the purpose of proving a probable cause to arrest Hamid Hayat and his father.
But defense attorney Johnny Griffin III, who represents the father, ice-cream truck driver Umer Hayat, 47, accused the government of "releasing information it knew it could not authenticate."
Attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi, who represents the son, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, said she plans to bring up the different versions of the affidavit when she represents her client at his arraignment scheduled for this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Nowinski in Sacramento. Both father and son are accused of making false statements to federal officials.
A key deletion, Mojaddidi said, was in a paragraph claiming that Hamid Hayat had said "potential targets for attack would include hospitals and large food stores."
This part of the affidavit from FBI Special Agent Pedro Tenoch Aguilar was one of the most widely repeated in news accounts around the world, leading some terrorism experts to speculate about a significant escalation of al-Qaida strategies against public targets.
A federal source close to the investigation said the material about the hospitals and food stores was deleted out of fear that it might "panic the public." The same source said other deletions, including the names of a friend and uncle who allegedly encouraged Hamid Hayat to go to the training camps, occurred because the younger Hayat was the only person to name them.
Former Los Angeles federal prosecutor Jan Handzlik, now in private practice, said the two affidavit versions would probably have no long-term impact on the case, although they could make it difficult for the government to find unbiased jurors.
"The basic problem," said Handzlik, "is that the perception of the defendants in the minds of potential jurors may have been irrevocably affected."
A bigger problem, said Handzlik, may be "in addition to prejudicing the defendants unfairly, this material may also reveal intelligence material that the government did not want to release."
While only the Hayats have been criminally charged in the case, sources familiar with the ongoing investigation said the original focus of the federal inquiry in Lodi was Mohammed Adil Khan, a Pakistani resident who has been detained by immigration officials for alleged visa violations.
Three sources familiar with the investigation said that Khan drew the attention of the FBI nearly three years ago and was eventually monitored by agents after authorities secured a secret warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The sources would not disclose the reason for the original interest in Khan, who is well-regarded in the community and affiliated with the Farooqia Islamic Center in Lodi. Nor would they say if that investigation revealed any wrongdoing. But it was that inquiry, according to the sources, that eventually led to some of this week's arrests.
With indictments in the case expected some time next week, one senior U.S. counterterrorism official said this week that the Lodi case has "echoes" of a recent federal prosecution in Alexandria, Va., where a well-known Muslim cleric was found guilty of inciting his followers to train in overseas camps for attacks against the U.S.
In that case, a federal jury on April 26 found Ali al-Timimi guilty on 10 charges that included urging followers to fight the U.S. But his conviction came after a week's deliberations by a jury and has been controversial because it hinged largely on his remarks — just days after the Sept. 11 attacks — that followers should join the armed jihad in Afghanistan.
While prosecutors convinced a jury that the comments led several of his followers to attend overseas training camps, al-Timimi's attorneys, who are appealing his conviction, argued that he was being wrongfully prosecuted for rhetoric.
In the Lodi case, authorities so far have alleged only that Hamid Hayat and his father lied about the son's travels to an alleged terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
But in the now-withdrawn FBI affidavit, authorities went into much greater detail, alleging, among other things, that Hayat's grandfather is a close friend of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Authorities in Pakistan have identified a man by that name as leading an outlawed group of extremists.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company