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California prisoner seeks to vacate terrorism conviction

By Mary Papenfuss

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Attorneys for a California man serving time in federal prison on a terrorism charge are seeking to vacate his conviction, saying an al Qaeda training camp he was accused of attending had been dismantled by the time he purportedly arrived.

Hamid Hayat, 31, was sentenced to 24 years in prison in 2006 for three counts of lying to federal agents and one count of providing material support to terrorists after prosecutors said he attended an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan during a trip there from 2003 to 2004.

In a motion filed in federal district court in Sacramento on Wednesday, his lawyers argued that the camp was shut down by the Pakistani government in October 2003, based on witness accounts, before Hayat traveled to the country.

The lawyers say that U.S. officials, who maintained an FBI office in Islamabad, must have known that the camp had been closed. They also argue that Hayat's inexperienced attorney failed to launch a vigorous defense in a complicated case.

"The case was threadbare," San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan said. "Other than Hayat's own statements, prosecutors had no evidence he attended a training camp."

Hayat, a farmworker from the Lodi area south of Sacramento, talked about the camp at the end of what his lawyers described as a high-pressure, marathon interrogation session that left him exhausted, confused and willing to say anything so he could go home, according to the motion.

Additionally, attorneys have obtained 18 affidavits from friends and family in Pakistan saying he was with them throughout his visit, which he arranged to see his sick mother and get married, said attorney Dennis Riordan.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Hayat's conviction last year, discounting arguments by his attorneys that the jury foreman was biased and that the trial judge had improperly allowed the jury to consider prejudicial evidence from the government.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento said officials were reviewing the motion, but had no immediate comment.

No evidence was presented of any specific attacks planned by Hayat at his trial, and federal officials at the time characterized the case as pre-emptive.

A prosecutor told jurors that Hayat had a "jihadi heart" and a "jihadi mind." Hayat's father, Umer Hayat, was charged with lying to federal agents, but later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to time served while awaiting trial.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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