View From Lodi, CA: Lodi`s Terrorism Link: Are Immigrants Loyal?
June 24, 2005, 05:00 AM
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One of Mohammed Atta's Florida neighbors, immediately following 9/11, remembered him as "a nice guy, very intelligent and polite." Atta, we now know, was one of the masterminds behind the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

Neighbors of Waleed Alshehri, another of the 9/11 terrorists, recalled him as "a nice guy" who liked video games and rooted for the Florida Marlins. Alshehri helped Atta crash American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center

Abdulaziz Alomari, on board AA #11 with Atta and Alshehri, lived "quietly" in Vero Beach with his wife and four children.

Nawaf Alhamzi's landlord said his tenant was always "prompt" with the rent. Alhamzi hijacked American Airlines flight 77 and flew it into the Pentagon.

A family who rented a room to Hani Hanjur, another AA #77 terrorist, said he "was a kind and gentle man" who liked children.

I thought about these wildly incorrect character assessments—-compiled by CBS News—every time I read the dozens of stories about the five Lodi suspects arrested more than two weeks ago on terrorism related charges and immigration violations.

The stories quoted Lodians about their generally favorable perceptions of the suspects.

And while the five in custody are innocent until proven guilty, when you think about it , the opinions of the neighbors, family members or community and religious leaders regarding the suspects' character is not germane.

What difference, in context of the charges against them, does it make if someone down the block "never had a problem"? [Raids Stun Close Knit Pakistani Community, Emily Bazar and Christina Jewett, Sacramento Bee, June 8th]

One way or the other, it simply doesn't matter. So why report on what the man in the street thinks when there are so many more compelling issues to explore? Neighbors of Lodi Terrorist Suspects Express Surprise at Arrests, Andrew La Mar, Contra Costa Times, June 8th, 2005)

Here are the well-known facts:

  • After an extensive Joint Terrorism Task Force Investigation (federal, state and local law enforcement), five Lodi men were arrested. Two suspects, Umer and Hamid Hayat, were charged with lying to federal officials about alleged participation in and knowledge of Al-Queda sponsored training camps. The three other suspects have allegedly violated the terms of their visas.

  • U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Nowinski twice denied bail to the Hayats who he perceived as flight risks.

  • The Department of Justice indicted the Hayats.

  • Defense attorneys entered a not guilty plea in Sacramento federal court on behalf of both Hayats.

Beyond these hard facts everything is conjecture.

But if speculation is the order of the day, let's at least make it interesting by responding to four compelling questions and observations raised by analyst Daniel Pipes of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.

First, Pipes, in his weblog dated June 11th noted that the Hayat's maternal grandmother Qari Saeed ur Rehman, "founded the Jamia Islamia Madrassa in 1962 (and still runs it), is a leader in the Jamiat Ulema Islam Party, and served as minister of religious affairs in the late 1980s."

Since the Hayat family is directly related to Pakistani religious royalty why, wonders Pipes, are Umer and Hamid in California toiling as unskilled laborers by selling ice cream from a cart and picking cherries?

Second, Pipes is curious why the Hayat family traveled so often to Pakistan.  Pipes is not persuaded by the explanation of Wazhma Mojaddidi, Hayat's attorney, that it went to seek medical treatment for the mother.

"Urdu-speaking doctors are not hard to find in northern California and they dispose of far superior facilities, so what's up?" Pipes asks.

Third, Pipes is puzzled by the $28, 093 found on the Hayats when they were stopped at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Asks Pipes: "What is an ice-cream vendor doing with such an amount of money and why is he breaking U.S. customs regulations by taking out so much cash without declaring it?" asks Pipes.

Finally, Pipes is curious about the 2003 Farooqia Islamic Center 2003 tax return that shows a travel budget of $20, 635 or one-third the Center's total operating expenses of $57, 544.

Lodi has taken the investigation in stride. Despite suggestions to the contrary made by the American Civil Liberties Union, no one—at least no one I know—assumes or concludes that all Muslims are terrorists.

But Pipes raises important points that must be addressed. To ignore Pipes is foolish because the stakes in terrorism investigation are literally life and death.

As the F.B.I. has stated repeatedly, the five suspects will have their day in court.

At that time, and not before, the unanswered questions will be resolved.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.