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umer hayat

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An ice cream truck driver in Lodi, Calif., Umer Hayat and his son Hamid were the defendants in a domestic terror case that drew national attention. In 2003, Umer and his family returned for a visit to their homeland of Pakistan where the U.S. government says Umer and Hamid visited an Al Qaeda training camp. Although they told FBI interrogators they had attended the camp, they later recanted. In May 2006, after 11 months in jail, Umer's trial ended with a deadlocked jury; he pled guilty to an unrelated charge of making a false claim on a customs form, and was released. His son was convicted for attending a terror camp and faces up to 39 years in prison, pending appeal. Here, Umer Hayat talks about the FBI's interrogation and why he confessed to visiting an Al Qaeda camp with his son. He also talks about the impact the trial has had on him and his family and why the government targeted them. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted June 26, 2006.

Tell me about your wife. [She] comes from a family near your hometown?

Yes. Same village. She was born in the same village, yes. She come here in 1980.

But my understanding is that your in-laws are also involved in religion in Pakistan, and your father-in-law runs a madrassa, a religious school.

Yeah. He is running a madrassa from 1959 or '60. He started that madrassa up. ...

Why did your wife and son go to Pakistan [in the summer of 2000]?

Everybody went, my wife and me and my kids -- my two daughters and my two sons -- because we want to marry Hamid over there in Pakistan. … And we built a house over there, too, for Hamid.

You weren't over there for any business?

No, no. For my family. That was the focus.

And Hamid stayed there for a while?

How does it feel when your son is going to jail for nothing?

Sure, because we were building [a] house. But it take one year, more than one year to build a house. ...

You're American citizens?

Yes. I am American citizen from 1994.

Did you have any idea you were under investigation?

No, no, no.

At all? Nobody -- surveillance? You didn't notice anybody coming around or anything like that?

No.

And who is Naseem Khan?

... He was a friend of my son. He was calling me a Dad, and he was calling to my wife a Mom. He was the best friend of Hamid, and he would spend one night or two night here with my son. We would respect him as a son. And we feed him here. ...

Did you have any idea of who he was or where he came from?

No, no. I know so far he's from Pakistan, that Hamid was telling that he was from Pakistan. When he was here he'd say: "Hamid is my friend. Hamid told me he's best friend of mine." Then usually he could come here and spend the night and eat dinner here and breakfast. ...

But you didn't suspect that he might be working for the FBI or that he was recording conversations?

No, no.

Did you ask him what he did for a living?

Yeah. He said, "I'm working in a computer company." … And I told him, "Where you live?" He said, "I can't tell you where we live," because he said this: "I'm working for the government computer [program], and that's a secret." ...

And how long did this go on?

I think it was one year.

Did you see him at the mosque? ...

Friday he was come to pray, yes. Only Friday.

And was he friendly with the imams?

Friendly with the imams, yes, yes. He stay over there, and he eat over there. ... They don't know [that he is] working for the FBI, and they said, "He's helping us in the computer."

[But] you didn't realize you were under investigation until the FBI asked you to come to be questioned?

Yes, yes.

Now, thinking about this over the last year or so, why do you think they were investigating you?

Because Naseem come.

Because he fingered you? ... He thought or told them that you were dangerous?

Yes. My son, actually.

When you went into the FBI, what were you thinking? Did they just call you up?

No, no. It was Friday, and the two FBI show up on Friday afternoon. They said, "We're going to talk to your son." They come to the back house over there, and I say, "OK." I open the door, and we sit down on the couch. ... They just want to talk to Hamid. So I would sit down about five, 10 minutes, and they was just talking to Hamid.

Hamid was showing them a picture, a [wedding] picture. He said, "I went to Pakistan, and look at my wedding picture." Then I told him: "I got only 10 minutes. I have to go to mosque, because Friday is really important for us to pray together." So they say, "OK. You can go now." So I left. I left Hamid over there in my house, and my wife and my daughter, my son.

So I went to the mosque, and when I come back from the mosque, and I [asked] my wife what happened, she said, "They want you to come back to the FBI center over there in Sacramento tomorrow morning." I said: "OK. That's fine. We can go over there because we don't do anything wrong. We're going to go over there."

I call Hamid and say, "OK, we're going." He was working a nightshift on the [cherry shed]. ... So he went there at night, and then he come back like 2:00 in the morning time. He sleep maybe two hours, three hour, and then we pick [him] up and say, "Let's go to FBI center." And then I took him over there to FBI. ...

... When you went to the FBI building, were you nervous?

No.

You trusted them?

Yes, ... because they law enforcements. That's why I go over there. ... I don't know they was waiting for us from two, three year to get us. I [respect] them, because I'm a good citizen here in the United States. My son is born here, and my whole family is here for many, many year. And I'd expect a lot. That's why I went there. ...

Was your son nervous?

No. He was not nervous. Why he was nervous? Because he don't do anything wrong. ...

And you just drove there yourselves?

Yes, I drove over there, ... and they started my son['s] interviews. They took him to the first room, and they said, "Umer, we're going to take your son Hamid, and we want to interview him for a little while." They said half an hour or one hour.

I said, "OK." And they say, "You stay outside." He was talking to them -- just the business and this and that. And they took Hamid, and they took so long. I told them, "Why you took so long?" And they said: "No, it's going to be a little bit. He's finished almost. He's finished almost." So they took, like, until 6:30, and then they got on me.

They said: "You are lying. Come on inside." And I said, "Well, what about I'm lying to you?" And they say: "You are lying. You are lying. Your son went to the camp," and this and that.

There was two people behind, and they was jumping on me. ... I said: "No, my son did not went the camp. He's not a terrorist." They said: "No, he went to the camp. He went to the camp. You are lying. You are lying." And they were not recording that.

They didn't record it?

No. They don't record that half hour.

At the beginning?

Yes.

Before the FBI agents came to ask you to come to Sacramento, ... Hamid had come back from Pakistan like a week before, right?

No. He was there only three days. ...

Did he tell you about what happened, when he flew back, that the plane was stopped in Japan?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

What did he tell you?

Well, my wife called from Japan, and she said, "We got to stop there, and when we get there I will let you know when I get home," she say. And when she got home she said that they said somebody told us he's a terrorist, but they search him over there in Japan, in Tokyo. But [then] they said nothing. ...

So you thought it was all over?

Yes. ...

So when you go to the FBI headquarters, and after the period where they didn't record the first half hour, then what happens?

Then they took me to the other room, to the special room where they were recording. But I don't know they started recording it yet. ... And they say: "If you like your son, we want to put [a wire on you]. ... You can go to imam here in Lodi and record him for us, because you're helping with your son. We're not going to promise your son is going to go back to home, but maybe it can help your son if you can do that for us." They say: "Go ask him some question. Well, maybe bring up when Hamid went to the camp," or this and that.

I went there because I was helping with my son, because my son was innocent. He don't do anything wrong. So I went there, and they asked then, "Did Hamid told you about this kind of stuff?" He said no. ...

You told me you offered to take a polygraph.

I asked them, yes. ... I say, "Put that polygraph on me if I'm lying." And they don't give me an answer. They don't say anything.

Did they tell you that your son had confessed?

No, they don't tell me that.

Did you ask them how did they know he went to the camp?

No, I don't ask them.

I think many Americans, people watching, would say you must have known about the Taliban when you went to Pakistan, yes?

Yeah. We were watching every day in the news.

Did you think that maybe anyone in your family or your wife's family might have been sympathetic with the Taliban or help them in any way?

No.

Or have similar sort of strict religious beliefs?

Well, no. I don't think so, no. Not really. …

Let's talk about the two imams. Did you know them?

Yeah, I know them because they're imams in the mosque, so I meet them every day because I pray five times a day. The imams is present over there all the time. Those are nice people. They were not bad people. ...

Did they ever say anything or preach about anything that would make you suspicious?

No, never. ...

Did you actually go to a training camp?

No.

Never?

No.

So why were you saying yes [on the taped confessions] and describing one?

Why did he confess if he is innocent?

I just wanted the story, that's all, [because] they were not believing when I was telling the truth. I was so nervous by that time, and I say if they can let me go home, I want to finish up. Say yes, yes, yes, yes. Whatever they tell, say yes, yes, yes, either wrong or right. I was trying to go home.

But in the tape you're talking about Kalashnikovs, and you're agreeing that they're there. You're talking about target practice. You're talking about an underground operation.

No. Just everything was lying, because I was so confus[ed] for long time until they keep my inside of the room. I was there; I want to go home. That's what I think in my mind. So I said, "Yes, yes," to whatever they said. I just say: "Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir." That's all. I was trying to go home. That's why [I said] it. They let me go home, because they not believing me when I was telling them the truth.

They were calling you a liar?

Yes, they was calling me liar. So then I make a story, that's all, because I want to go home. ... I never went to camp. There is no camp in Pakistan. Never. No camp.

Your uncle, your wife's uncle or your relatives on your wife's side, they didn't take you to camp to show you around?

No, no, no. I just make a story up. ...

Did you ever say to them [the FBI]: "Why are you doing this to me? Why are you asking?"

I was asking first time, but they don't record those.

And what did you ask them?

I ask him: "I'm not a terrorist. My son is not terrorist. What you guys doing with us?" They said: "No, you guys lying, lying. You keep lying." He say, "Tell us the truth." They say: "You keep lying. We're going to give you five minutes. Think about it. And we're going to take you again to the room, and we're going to interview you." They make me nervous. They was treating me, like pushing me, like forcing me. They was changing the face and the color.

They were yelling at you?

Yes, they do. They was pointing me [with their] finger, too. They say, "You're not telling us the truth."

When you told them that you had gone to a camp, that you had seen these things, were they satisfied?

Then they satisfied when I was lying to them, yeah.

And then they asked you to wear a wire, a recording device. Did they say why?

Because, they say: "You're helping your son. Maybe your son is going to get out from this stuff if you can help us." See, they did trick with me.

They said you could help your son if you wore a wire and talked --

Talked to those religion people, those two imam.

Did you ask them why the imams?

No, no. I make mistake. I should have asked that time, but they make me nervous. They make me confused. I want to go home. That's all. I want to go home.

By then you've been there nearly 12 hours?

Yeah, at least that long. Yeah.

And you haven't talked to a lawyer?

No. The next day, you know, when the lawyer called about three hours before, four hour, they keep talking to me. They don't tell me our lawyers call us. And they say: "Your lawyer is calling us, and he's on the way. You want to talk to us, or you want to talk to your lawyer?" I say, "I'll talk to the lawyer." And they say: "Well, it's up to you. We want to talk to you if you can talk to us." They're still talking to me. And I say, "No, I'm going to wait until my lawyer [arrives]."

What about rights?

Well, I don't know anything about my rights. No, they don't told me anything. After they done, and they know my lawyer is coming on the way, and until he was there, and then they told us.

So in that whole day, that whole 12 hours before they asked you to wear that wire, they never said to you what your rights were?

No, never.

Editor's note: FBI agents testified during the trial that they did not have to advise Umer of his rights, including having a lawyer present because he was not in custody and as he had come voluntarily, could have left anytime he wanted. Agents informed Umer of his Miranda rights when they placed him under arrest.

That you had a right to an attorney, that you could leave at any moment?

No, they didn't ask me that. No, no. ... I told them: "I am diabet[ic]. I don't have my medicine with me." And they say, "You can leave if you want to go and get your medicine and come back here." I say: "No, I'm not going to leave my son here. Until he's done, I'm going to take [him] home." Yeah. I told him, "I'm not going without my son." ...

How did you feel when they told you that Hamid was going to have to stay in jail?

Well, how does it feel when your son is going to jail for nothing? My feeling was very bad. I was sad. I was very sad. I was just helping. They were just using me. I thought Hamid was going to come back when I go over there. I think I go over there by those two [imams] and ask him about Hamid. That was in my mind. ...

[What happened when they put a recording device on you and had you go talk to the imams?]

Yeah, the next day [Sunday] I wake up like 5:00 in the morning, and I pray. I went there about like 6:30 or 7:00 in imam house, and I asked him about Hamid. "Did Hamid tell you he went to the camp?" He said, "No, never, ever." He said, "We don't talk like that." He said, "We don't like those people who -- ... if I know he's interested in camp in Pakistan, I kick him out from the madrassa."

They told you that they weren't interested at all in the camp.

Yes. ...

But you went to see the first imam at 2:00 in the morning, right?

I went to first imam, and I talked to him. He don't know I got the wire. I talked to him about Hamid, and he just talked to me about that kind of stuff. The next day, in the morning, I told that imam I want to go to [Mohammad Adil Khan]. He's the other imam. He say: "No, he's not going to wake up. You can go in the morning." So I went next day in the morning to his house.

And how did they talk about Hamid?

They say: "We know Hamid. Hamid is a lazy boy, and he stay all the time home." And he just got back from Pakistan. [I] say: "I don't believe that. Who told you that he went to the camp, because he don't even go out for one mile or two mile or half mile without any person. I mean, he can't go. He's [scared]. He can't go to other village without his mom, and how he went to the camp?" They said there is no camp in Pakistan. The camp is done. Maybe that time in Afghanistan that camp, but not in Pakistan. They know that.

You've since heard that the FBI was suspicious of the imams, right?

Yes.

Why would the FBI be so interested in these two imams?

Because they was religious people. They was peaceful people. They was building madrassa here, the school for the kids. They can learn something better. They not going to be in gangs. You don't want any more gangs, like here in Lodi in California. They want to teach them religion. That's very important part from my religion. They have to be [schooled in their] own religion. That's a madrassa. That was not a terrorist camp they're making over there. We can't think like that in America. Somebody is going to make a camp? Unbelievable.

Had you ever been in jail before this?

No, I've never been in jail [before this].

You never suspected that anyone in your family would be accused of being connected to terrorism?

No, no. It was a nightmare for us. I lost my business; I lost my name. Everything, I lost it. And I'm living with my family in the garage I built.

In this garage?

Yes, right here. And my daughter is kind of sick. She got sick. She have a migraine. When we was arrest[ed] now, she's sick. She's in a bed right now. She went [to the] emergency [room] yesterday, too. And my other little girl, she's ... sick right now. My wife was sick before. She [has] hepatitis C, and now she get worse because we was in the jail. And son is still in the jail for nothing. So the whole family has got [destroyed].

Why do you think they do this?

I don't know about that. I trust them. I respected the law. I'm living in America. I am a U.S. citizen, and we've been for 30 years working the field. I work hard. I make my house with money in the field, like $2 an hour. I was working in the field. I make that money, hard money, and I work and make for my children.

We here to be peaceful people. ... We are safe in Lodi. This is a small town, and I've been here a long time. This is a safe town. ...

After you went to see the imam, then you went back to Sacramento, right?

And I stay, yeah. I was waiting outside from the house, and I told them, "I'm ready for you outside to come and pick me up."

So the FBI came and picked you up?

Yes, yes. They pick me up without any handcuff or anything like that. I just sit down in the car, and they took me up there to the FBI center.

And what did they do?

They say: "Go ahead, because you were not sleeping last night. We'll give you a pillow and blanket." And they leave the room. I laid down on the floor about two hours, three hour, and then they come back, and they say, "We want to show you some pictures," and they show me some pictures [of] terrorists.

These are people you knew?

Yeah. I knew them in Lodi. It was the kids.

And they said they were terrorists?

Yeah, they was saying, "They are terrorists, and what you think?" I said: "I don't know, I don't know. They're not terrorists." I told them, "If you know they are terrorists, go get them." They say, "No, we just ask you if you know them." I say, "I know them, but they not a terrorist."

And what did they tell you about Hamid? Where is Hamid?

They said Hamid went to the jail. He's in the jail right now. I told them, "You told me last night you were going to help us, and the next day maybe he went to home." And they said, "No, he went to jail."

Did they tell you he was arrested?

They say he was arrested last night. ... They said, "We take him to a jail."

So they had lied to you?

Yeah. They said, "Well, we told you last night that that wasn't a promise."

And then what?

And then they showing me pictures [for] three, four hour. ... Then my attorney was there, and they say, "Well, [Umer] is going to go to jail right now."

And they arrested you?

Yeah. But they don't ask me. They just put me in handcuffs and take me to the jail. They don't say anything to me while they arrest me. ...

What was your reaction?

Well, I was just mad and sad. That's all, you know. I not do anything wrong. ... They make a trick. They did trick with us. They did a good trick. I don't know my rights. That's why I should have not talked to them. I should have not go over there to the FBI center, not even my son and not me.

Let me just ask you for the record: Do you support Osama bin Laden?

No. I just heard the name on the TV here in America, not even Pakistan. No.

Do you support the Taliban?

No. I'm American citizen. This is my country. I love my country. If I was Pakistani, maybe, but I tore my passport, Pakistani passport. I live in America. That's why I took my American passport. My [children] is born here, and my father passed away here, and my grandfather passed away here, too. My uncle passed away here. We love this country. We belong to this country. I love my country. I'm not expecting those kind of thing.

Even I never think in my life like this kind of thing, the one they put on me and my son, the terrorist [charges]. We never think like, you know, those kind of stuff.

Couldn't dream of it?

Yeah. It was a nightmare for us. I lost everything. Look at my family now, how bad we're living in right now, how the life is. You know, they throw us in the street, like we are homeless right now.

I'm a good citizen. I love this country. And my kids [were] born here. They living here; they going to school here. [If] the father is selling ice cream for 10 year in this country and working in the field and all over, and he's going to be a terrorist? Unbelievable. And his son is going to become a terrorist? No, never. We not think like that. Even I not think in my dream even like this. ...

... The prosecution said they found a prayer in your son's pocket. They say it was a warrior's prayer, ... which they have cited as an indication that your son was involved in jihad. Is that what the prayer means?

No. I don't know what to say. No. Absolutely.

You have your own prayers?

Yeah. Every baby born, they put it in. That's from the tradition. We call it tawiz. Yeah, all over you will see every Muslim have that. That [doesn't] mean that's for the jihad. That's our own protection. That's like Jewish people put it [a mezuzah] on the door, too. That's not mean they going to be a jihad. No way. ...

Does the FBI understand the Pakistani traditions, the Muslim traditions, the culture?

No, they don't understand. No. Absolutely they don't understand. If they understand, they wouldn't have do that. They don't know [our] culture, [our] tradition. No, they don't. ...

So if they came to the Lodi community now after what has happened, and they said, "We suspect there are terrorists coming here because it's a Muslim community, and those people mean us harm," would you help them? Would the community help them?

The community is going to help them if somebody is terrorist here, yes. ... But I guarantee there are no terrorism in this community. That's what I know.

And why do you say that? How do you know?

I know that. And some people, why they come from the poor countries, they want to be settled here; they want to make money; they want to live here safe. They don't want to come here to do this. If they want to do that, there is Iraq and Afghanistan. They're doing that. Why they come here and [be a] terrorist? They can't do anything here. If somebody want to do that, they can go to Afghanistan or Iraq. They do not come here. They not supposed to be here, the terrorists. This is America. That's not Middle East.

The Muslim community would not support anybody coming here for terrorist purposes?

No, no. Never ever, no. If they know terrorist here, they would call FBI or the police. ...

When you were in jail, you could watch television in jail?

Sometimes.

Did you see that or hear that the government was saying that [Al Qaeda] was here in Lodi?

Yeah, I heard that. But I was laughing. I was laughing. That's impossible. I just said, "No way." ...

I'm just trying to get from you why you think this happened to you.

Why? I think because my father-in-law, he's a religious man, that's all. We are religious person. We are religious people. That's why, I think. ... [Because] they have a Muslim people they know they're all over America. ... But we love this country. We're not going to be having that. We're going to die for this country here. Here, this is my world. ...

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posted oct. 10, 2006

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