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Cleric denies terrorist link to men in Calif.

Says relatives unjustly arrested

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- A cleric yesterday disputed FBI allegations that his 22-year-old grandson received jihadist training at his Islamic seminary near Pakistan's capital, calling the charges ''a pack of lies."

Qari Saeed-ur Rehman, head of the Jamia Islamia madrassa in Rawalpindi, said his grandson Hamid Hayat and son-in-law Umer Hayat, 47, were wrongfully arrested in California last week, and he dismissed suggestions they were linked to an Al Qaeda cell.

''Hamid Hayat never received religious education at my madrassa," Rehman, a supporter of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime and a critic of the US government, said in an interview. ''There is no terrorist camp here. We reject such FBI allegations."

''All allegations leveled against them by the FBI are a pack of lies," he added.

The Hayats were arrested on charges of lying to federal investigators after what the FBI said was a yearslong investigation into possible connections between some members of the large Pakistani community in Lodi, Calif., and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Assistant US Attorney R. Steven Lapham said Hamid Hayat, a US citizen, traveled repeatedly to Pakistan where he ''learned to kill Americans" while attending a terrorist camp for six months in 2003 and 2004.

According to an FBI affidavit, Umer Hayat said his son was drawn to jihadist training camps in his early teens while attending Rehman's 550-student madrassa, which is at a grand mosque in a teeming commercial district of Rawalpindi, about eight miles from Islamabad, the capital.

Pakistan's government, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, denies there are any terrorist camps in the country. Officials say Al Qaeda bases along the border with Afghanistan were smashed by Pakistani army operations in 2004.

Rehman said that during the 1980s, his seminary sent students to fight alongside other ''holy warriors," known as mujahideen, against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan -- a struggle coordinated by Pakistan's intelligence agencies with CIA support -- but the cleric denied producing jihadists today.

''A number of students from the madrassa went to Afghanistan to fight against Soviet troops, and at the time the Americans were providing funds to mujahideen,'' Rehman said. ''Pakistan's government was encouraging students to go there."

''It is a part of history and who can deny it? We are not doing it now because it is not the policy of government."

Rehman said that both Umer and Hamid Hayat had visited the seminary but neither studied there.

Rehman's son Attiqur Rehman, who is also a cleric at the madrassa, said Hamid Hayat lived at a village near Islamabad from April 2003 until May 27 this year, marrying in 2004. He said Hamid went to the United States last month to arrange for his wife to emigrate there.

''This innocent man never talked about jihadi groups," Attiqur Rehman said, adding that he thought the Hayats were arrested on wrong information given to the FBI by enemies in California.

His claim follows reports that the arrest has strained relations among Pakistanis in Lodi, with moderate and fundamentalist Muslim factions accusing each other of contacting the FBI.

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