Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Enemy Within (Part III)

The FBI has now arrested a fifth person in connection with that alleged Al Qaida cell in Lodi, California. Agents identified the fifth suspect as the 19-year-old son of a local Islamic iman, who once publicily criticized the 9-11 attacks, and signed a "Declaration of Peace" with other religious leaders in the Lodi area.

Earlier this week, the FBI arrested two other Lodi residents--both of Pakistani descent--for lying to investigators about their activities. Turns out that one of the men, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, recently returned from an Al Qaida training camp in Pakistan. 47-year-old Umer Hayat, the boy's father, paid for the trip.

There is some confusion surrounding this case. At least two prominent Pakistanis have the same name of the man listed as the operator of the camp. Additionally, federal prosecutors filed a second version of the affidavit that outlined key details of the case. The first version claimed that the Hayats were considering hospitals and grocery stores as targets for potential attacks; the second version ommitted that statement. It is also unclear if the camp the younger Hayat attended was actually an Al Qaida facility, or a center used to train insurgents for attacks in Kashmir.

Residents in Lodi expressed shock at the recent arrests, describing some of those detained as "good people." Others voiced concern that the town would become known as a terrorist haven.

Does anyone see a pattern here? A few years ago, similar sentiments were expressed in Lackawanna, NY, when six Yemeni-American men were arrested--and eventually convicted--for supporting Al Qaida and attending terrorist training camps. Almost to a man, the Lackawanna suspects were described as "nice" or "quiet" individuals who blended into their community. Residents seemed shocked to learn that some of those men also attended Al Qaida camps, and received terrorist training. The last of those suspects was sent to prison in 2003; they remain behind bars today.

Will the Lodi 5 wind up in prison as well? It's too early to tell, but there appear to be some striking similarities between initial reports from California, and early information on the Lackawanna 6. Almost four years after 9-11, it remains far too easy for terrorists (and their sympathizes) to operate freely, and prepare for possible attacks on our soil. There is currently no evidence the Lodi 5 were actively planning attacks, but it seems likely that some sort of terrorist capability was being developed in that California community. We can only wonder how many other terrorist training camp graduates are still at large, living quietly in our neighborhoods, and awaiting their orders.

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