Terrorist case needs to be handled with care

Freedom Newspapers

If it all pans out, it looks as if federal authorities are doing it right in Lodi, Calif. FBI agents arrested Hamid Hayat, 22, and his father Umer Hayat, and detained three other Pakistani-Americans suspected of having a link to al-Qaida or some terrorist organization.

On the basis of preliminary news reports, the actions are exactly the kind of homeland security measures that law enforcement should be taking.

People are innocent until proven guilty, of course, and the two haven’t actually been charged with being terrorists or planning terrorist acts, but with lying to federal authorities. And the government’s record on nabbing suspected terrorists inside the United States is hardly impeccable.

After the Madrid train bombings, FBI fingerprint experts erroneously identified an Oregon lawyer as a suspect and stayed with the case longer than was warranted. The case against three North African men arrested with great fanfare in Detroit in 2001 eventually fell apart.

But according to an affidavit released Tuesday, Hamid Hayat at first told federal agents that he never had anything to do with a terrorist training camp, then when faced with the possibility of a polygraph test admitted that he attended a terrorist training camp for six months in Pakistan in 2003-04. His father at first denied providing him money for the camp but later, according to the affidavit, admitted he had done so.

Members of Lodi’s close-knit Pakistani community, estimated variously at from 700 to 2,500 in a town of 62,000 people, and Hayat family members all say they can’t imagine Hamid Hayat is guilty.

Lodi, a farming community increasingly known for Zinfandel wine and grapes, has been a longtime home to Pakistani immigrants, most from a small rural section near Punjab where people learn agricultural skills that have proven useful in a California farming community.

Some newspaper stories say Pakistani-Americans are fearful they will be tarred with an al-Qaida brush and experience discrimination or violent incidents in the wake of the arrests.

It would be tragic if their fears were realized. It is incorrect to assume more than a tiny minority of Muslims have the slightest sympathy for terrorism. Indeed, intelligent cooperation with Muslim Americans, most of whom are loyal Americans, could be key to identifying and neutralizing the few who might seek to do Americans harm.

If the Hayats are really involved with terrorism, then throw the book at them. We hope the FBI did its work thoroughly and conscientiously in this case.