Middle East studies in the News
Terror case focus turns to phrase [on Lodi, CA terrorism case]
by Layla Bohm
The small piece of paper bore one sentence and was folded in quarters so that it was only about 1 3/4 by 1 7/8 inches. According to an Islamic Studies professor testifying Tuesday for the government, the paper found in Lodi resident Hamid Hayat's wallet read, "Oh, Allah, we place you at their throats and we seek refuge in you from their evils."
A person carrying the Arabic phrase was likely a "warrior" engaged in or preparing for jihad, or holy war, Khaleel Mohammed told a federal jury. The assistant professor of religious studies at San Diego State University holds multiple degrees from several universities and has spent years studying Islamic law.
Seated behind the defense table, 23-year-old Hayat silently shook his head as Mohammed said he could be a holy warrior preparing to fight against any Muslim enemies.
Defense attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi, herself a Muslim, asked Mohammed if the text could instead be translated different ways such as, "Oh, Allah, we ask you to face them and seek your protection against their evil."
Testimony regarding the scrap of paper stretched for hours Tuesday in the trial against Hayat, who is charged with lying to the FBI about his alleged knowledge of terror training camps in Pakistan and also faces a count of providing material support to terrorists.
His father, 48-year-old Umer Hayat, is charged with lying to the FBI about his knowledge of his son's alleged camp attendance. The father and son, both U.S. citizens, have pleaded not guilty and remain jailed without bail.
Both are on trial in U.S. District Court in Sacramento but have separate juries. Tuesday marked the first time the juries heard testimony together, though Umer Hayat's jury was excused before Mohammed began testifying about the paper found in his son's wallet.
Prosecutors had wanted both juries to hear about the paper but Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr., in a rare ruling in which he sided with defense attorney Johnny Griffin III, questioned whether the elder Hayat even knew about the paper in his son's wallet. The judge sent Umer Hayat's jurors home with instructions to return at 11 a.m. today, though Hamid Hayat's jury continues at the regularly scheduled 9 a.m. time.
Earlier Tuesday, an FBI linguist told both juries about the June 7 search of the Hayats' Acacia Street home. Pamas Batti, a linguist who worked in California courts before the FBI hired him in 1994, said he found two books on a shelf in the home's laundry room.
On the back of one of the books, the word "jihad" was written more than four times, Batti testified.
Under cross-examination by Mojaddidi, the linguist acknowledged that there were six or seven books in the room, but that he did not seize them. He said he had been told to find anything "pertinent" to the case.
Batti replied: "It was about terrorism."
The father and son had been arrested two days earlier, and FBI agents soon descended on the city of Lodi.
The case against the Hayats was built in part on the word of an FBI informant who befriended Hamid Hayat several years ago and began secretly recording conversations.
When he first started working for the FBI in 2001, the informant told agents he'd seen Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man who is considered second in command of al-Qaida, several times in the Lodi Muslim Mosque during 1998 and 1999. That information was revealed in court Monday, but the informant wrapped up his testimony and it is not known when he will return to testify further.
When Hamid Hayat was arrested after voluntarily going to the FBI office in Sacramento, agent Timothy Harrison seized his black wallet. It contained $70 in cash, his California driver's license and state-issued identification card, and his Social Security Card. On a lined white piece of paper was another agent's work and cell phone numbers, as well as the folded piece of paper with the Arabic phrase, Harrison testified.
The words were written in Arabic, obviously by someone who is not fluent in the language, Mohammed testified, pointing to marks that would help someone sound out the words phonetically.
The professor has spent years studying at several universities and has taught Arabic at a San Diego mosque. He said the government was paying him $250 an hour for his services — less than what he has charged for other consulting jobs — and as of Tuesday morning he'd spent about 40 hours on the case.
His interpretation of the Arabic phrase is expected to be further questioned at today's court proceeding. On Tuesday, Mohammed talked in detail about more than half a dozen Arabic texts in which he found references to the text Hamid Hayat had carried.
The word "throat" refers to the jugular vein, one of the most vulnerable places on a person, Mohammed said.
Last summer, several Islamic studies experts researched Muslim holy scriptures and ancient books at the request of the News-Sentinel and said the phrase could likely be translated different ways.
Eide Alawan, an outreach coordinator with the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, said Muslims frequently refer to Allah as being closer than the jugular vein — in other words, that God is more important that one's own lifeblood and is a stronger protection.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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