A man accused of attending an al-Qaida training camp is a trained terrorist intent on attacking Americans, prosecutors alleged Thursday, but his attorney called him just a directionless young man prone to wild storytelling.
In opening statements of Hamid Hayat’s federal trial, prosecutors said the 23-year-old Lodi man visited the camp in Pakistan in 2003, then returned to his family’s home in California farm country and awaited information about potential terrorist targets.
“Hamid Hayat talked about jihad before he even left the United States. He talked about acts of violence. He talked about training camps. He received weapons training while he was there,” prosecutor Laura Ferris said.
Hayat admitted going twice to a terrorist camp and returning to the United States, where he was “waiting for orders,” she said.
Ferris did not mention any specific targets or possible motives in her opening statement.
Hayat, who was born in the United States, is charged with supporting terrorists by attending the camp, and with lying about it to the FBI. He faces up to 39 years in prison if convicted.
Hamid Hayat’s attorney, Wazhma Mojaddidi, said the government has no proof that her client attended a terrorist camp, despite information agents received from a paid informant.
She said Hayat was prone to exaggeration and “has made statements that are just simply not true.” His statements to the FBI will expose contradictions and inaccuracies, she said.
The paid informant, who grew close to Hamid Hayat before he departed to Pakistan in May 2003, recorded hundreds of hours of audiotapes. In them, Mojaddidi said, jurors will hear the informant describe Hayat as lazy, lacking ambition “and just a big storyteller.”
Hayat and his father, 48-year-old Umer Hayat, have been in custody since their arrests last June. Umer Hayat is charged with making false statements to FBI agents about his son’s activities and could face 16 years in prison if convicted.
They are being tried together before separate juries. Opening statements in Umer Hayat’s portion of the trial are scheduled for Tuesday.
The arrests of the father and son stunned Lodi, an agricultural town of 62,000 about 35 miles south of Sacramento. Fears of a local terror cell grew when two Islamic clerics and one of the cleric’s sons were taken into custody and later deported on immigration violations.
Since then, the government has made no other arrests and has released little information about its investigation.
An affidavit released in Washington, D.C., when Hamid Hayat was arrested said he planned to attack hospitals and supermarkets after he returned to the United States.