Joel Mowbray

Unbeknownst to most Americans, federal prosecutors opened their case recently in the terrorism trial of a young American who studied under two Taliban-tied imams in California and whose grandfather was Pakistan’s minister of religion in the 1980’s.

The trial of Hamid Hayat, 23, is not taking place in the dark of night nor in a military tribunal from which the media is barred.  It is in an open California courtroom, the very kind that has been overrun for trials of the likes of Scott Peterson and O.J. Simpson.  Yet in the month of February, the New York Times had exactly one story on the alleged terror cell in Lodi, California.  The Washington Post had none.  And on the cable news channels, the trial has received scant attention.

Not that the trial suffers from lack of excitement.  Hayat confessed that he had attended terror training in Pakistan, the video of which jurors saw last week.  An FBI informant who had befriended the defendant—while wearing a wire—testified that Hayat would offer praise for “martyrs” and the Taliban, while professing disgust for America.

Adding further intrigue to the case is the high-profile status of the defendant’s grandfather, Qari Saeed ur Rehman.  The former minister of religion in Pakistan, Rehman is the founder and still the head of the Jamia Islamia madrassa, an Islamic school believed to be deeply radical. 

Hayat’s mosque in Lodi, California was headed by two imams who appear to have long, deep ties to the Taliban.  The two had intended to establish an Islamic school in Lodi modeled after one they had run in Pakistan, which counts among its graduates and teachers many high-ranking members of the Taliban.  Both men were deported last year.

The most tantalizing tidbit, though, is one not yet addressed at the trial.  Hamid Hayat and his father, Umer, were stopped at Dulles International Airport as they were preparing to fly to Pakistan in April 2003.  Agents discovered that between them, the father, an ice cream vendor, and son, a farm hand, had $28,093 in cash.  (Any amount in excess of $10,000 must be declared.)  Most of the money was confiscated, though neither was arrested.  Yet the mystery remains: how did two menial laborers stumble into that much cash?

Almost none of these details, however, have made their way into the national media.  Local papers have dutifully covered the terrorism trial, but major outlets in Washington and New York have mostly ignored it.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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