Father, Son Await Verdict in Lodi Terrorism Trial

A father and son facing terrorism-related charges in the small California mountain town of Lodi await a verdict in their long trial. Umer and Hamid Hayat are part of a large Muslim community in that town, and some Lodi residents worry that the FBI was too eager to convict them.

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A small town in the heart of California's farm country is waiting to see if two local Muslim's will be convicted on terrorism charges. The father and son have been on trial in federal court. Two separate juries are now deliberating.

Outside the courtroom, many people in Lodi wonder if the FBI jumped the gun when it arrested the two men. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES reporting:

The train that runs through the middle of Lodi stops to drop off passengers at the edge of a downtown that's making a comeback. It's the picture of small town America, a village of mom and pop stores surrounded by farms, big and small, and by grape vineyards that supply many California winemakers. That's what Lodi is known for.

But this farm town is much more diverse than most. It has a sizable Muslim community. Ten years ago, when someone burned a cross at a local mosque, the people of Lodi rallied around their Muslim neighbors. And then came 9-11. It could have split the town, but it didn't, says Taj Khan, a retired engineer and spokesman for Lodi's Muslim community.

Mr. TAJ KHAN (Lodi, California): We had gatherings of 700, 800 people from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim community. And I thought we were at the forefront of bringing peace and harmony to the community.

GONZALES: But Khan says the momentum of the interfaith effort was stalled by the arrests of two local Pakistani-American men, Umer Hayat and his son Hamid. The younger Hayat is accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. His father is charged with lying to federal officials about his son's activities. Khan believes the men are innocent. And there are many other Lodi residents following the trial who are coming to the same conclusion.

Douglas Blevins(ph) is a Lodi merchant.

Mr. DOUGLAS BLEVINS (Lodi, California): Initially, the town was sort of divided, and it divided pretty much along racial lines for a while. And then, talking to a number of different people, it seemed like a lot of folks have decided that, you know, the case seems pretty weak. And they want it to just go away.

GONZALES: Some observers say the government's case was weakened by the testimony of the FBI informant, Nasim Khan, who said that he had seen Osama bin Laden's chief deputy in Lodi as recently as 1999. It's a claim that even the prosecutors now discount. The FBI also acknowledged paying the informant nearly a quarter of a million dollars. All of this doesn't add up for Douglas Blevins.

Mr. BLEVINS: To me it seemed like a witchhunt. The FBI informant seemed like the kind of guy that was needing to justify his existence, and his paycheck.

GONZALES: Tom Kohep(ph), who owns a used bookstore in downtown Lodi, says most of his customers are skeptical too.

Mr. TOM KOHEP (Lodi, California): And it appears that there's really no evidence against these guys. I haven't met anybody who's particularly worried about it, you know, as far as, you know, that they actually were terrorists.

GONZALES: Yet there is a discernable unease in town, as several civic and religious leaders declined to comment while the juries deliberate. City Councilman John Beckman says people are concerned about a potential terrorist threat. But there's been no reprisals or violence against Muslims in Lodi. And Beckman doesn't expect such a reaction, even if the Hayats are found guilty.

Mr. JOHN BECKMAN (City Councilman, Lodi, California): Because we've done so much work with the interfaith group, talking to each other more, one on one, I don't think that you're going to find a backlash type of reaction, or a type of reaction you might find in a large city. Community of 65,000, you know, we tend to know a little bit more about each other.

GONZALES: But even neighbors can wonder if they truly know one another. And regardless of how the trial turns out, some people here worry that the government's allegations have fueled something that doesn't die easily in small towns or big cities: suspicion.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Lodi.

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