Five Americans of plotting terror attacks in Pakistan were formally charged Wednesday with several terrorism-related counts, the prosecutor in the case announced.
Nadeem Akram Cheema, prosecutor for the Anti-Terrorism Court in Sargodha, Pakistan, said the men were charged with criminal conspiracy to commit terrorism, waging war against Pakistan and its allies, and several other charges.
Charges include “planning to carry out attacks against Pakistan and its allied countries, possessing jihadi literature and making monetary contribution to banned organizations,” Nadim Akram Cheema, a government prosecutor, told the BBC Urdu service.
The men were also charged with planning to wage war against countries that are in alliance with Pakistan.
The men, who have been called the “D.C. 5” because they all lived in the region around the U.S. capital, were arrested in December in Sargodha, about 193 kilometres south of Islamabad. Pakistani authorities have described them as college students who “were of the opinion that a jihad [holy war] must be waged against the infidels for the atrocities committed by them against Muslims around the world.” (CNN)
The five, aged 18 to 25, who worshipped together at a mosque in Alexandria, Virginia, are identified as Ahmed Abdullah Minni, Umar Farooq, Aman Hassan Yemer, Waqar Hussain Khan and Ramy Zamzam.
They all went missing from the state of Virginia in November. Their families reported them missing after finding a farewell video message, which is said to have shown scenes of war and calls for Muslims to be defended.
Investigators have said the men were planning to travel to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. But the accused have denied any links to al-Qaeda and insist they wanted to go to Afghanistan for charity work. They had had no plans to stage attacks on Pakistan.
Two of them are Pakistani-Americans, while the remaining three are said to be of Eriterean, Ethiopian and Egyptian origin. All of them have US passports.
The men were arrested in December on suspicion of trying to contact al-Qaeda-linked group. Pakistani authorities have said that the men, encouraged by Internet contacts with a Pakistani militant, traveled to Pakistan last year to wage jihad against American troops in Afghanistan.
The men have said they are innocent and claimed they were tortured in jail, and that US officials directed the abuse, but prison officials have denied the accusations.
The US embassy in Islamabad, which has also dismissed the allegations, confirmed that an American consular official attended Wednesday’s hearing.
They could face up to life in prison if convicted, authorities have said. Pakistan earlier barred their deportation to the U.S.
Witnesses and Reports
Journalists were not allowed in, but afterwards defence lawyer Sahid Kamal said “charges have been laid against the accused… All these charges are terrorism related. The offenses are punishable by life imprisonment. All the accused unanimously rejected them,” AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
A second defence lawyer, Hasan Dastagir, told Associated Press: “My clients were in good shape and high spirits.” He said the next hearing would be on March 31 and that prosecutors would produce more than 20 witnesses.
Mr. Dastagir said the defence would present evidence of the men’s community service in the US, as well as witnesses from there.
The U.S. has pressed an often-reluctant Pakistan to crack down on militants in its territory, many of whom are believed to be involved in attacks on American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. At the same time, several recent cases have highlighted incidents of foreigners signing up to join insurgents on both sides of the border.
Other Terrorism Arrests
Earlier this month, a New Jersey man accused of joining al-Qaeda was arrested in a sweep in Yemen, then fatally shot at a security guard at the hospital where he had been taken for treatment, the authorities said. And a federal indictment unsealed last week tied a Pennsylvania woman who used the Internet moniker JihadJane to plot to kill a Swedish artist who depicted the head of the Prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body.
David C. Headley, a Chicago man, was accused last December of helping to scout out locations for the deadly attacks on Mumbai, India, in 2008, and has also been charged with planning to attack a Danish newspaper that incensed many Muslims by printing cartoons with the image of the Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Headley is expected to plead guilty on Thursday.
Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who worked at a coffee stand in lower Manhattan, pleaded guilty in February to plotting to explode a bomb on the New York subway system. American authorities called the case one of the most serious threats since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Other cases that have drawn concern include the several Somali-Americans in Minnesota who have returned to Africa to fight with Islamic militants who control much of Somalia, the Muslim-American psychiatrist who fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., and a Long Island man who converted to Islam and traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to join up with militants.
In Other News…
Anti-government protesters continue to throw blood on the Prime Minister’s house in Thailand, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nourdi al-Maliki claims that the results are being tampered with in the Iraq election. Also, U.S. and Israel try to renew ties after a rift over building projects in Jerusalem.