ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistani authorities said Friday that they plan to recommend criminal charges against the five northern Virginia men recently arrested in this country, a development that could delay or prevent the men's handover to the United States.
The five have been in detention since their arrest two weeks ago, but they have not yet been criminally charged. A senior police official in the city of Sargodha, where the men were arrested, said Friday that investigators had concluded the five intended to join extremist organizations and "get involved in terrorist acts."
Police plan to recommend terrorism charges to the court once their investigation has concluded, said the official, Tahir Gujar. The decision on whether to prosecute ultimately will be made by the court. Terror charges, if proven, could lead to life in prison.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Islamabad declined to comment on the developments and referred questions to the Justice Department. U.S. officials have said in the past that the men are likely to be deported to the United States, where they also could face criminal prosecution.
The men, who range in age from 18 to 24, left the United States shortly after Thanksgiving without the knowledge of their parents, who later alerted authorities that they were missing. Pakistani police and intelligence officials have said the men - Ramy Zamzam, 22; Ahmad A. Minni, 20; Umar Farooq, 24; Waqar Khan, 22; and Aman Hassan Yemer, 18 - were in contact for months with a Taliban recruiter.
The case has bolstered fears that Americans and other Westerners are heading to Pakistan to link up with al-Qaida and other militant groups, and it could test a U.S.-Pakistani relationship already made brittle by demands of the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Officials say the men hoped to join al-Qaida and work with jihadist groups to battle U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan, an aspiration that their Washington, D.C.-area friends and religious advisers have said they never detected.
"We have seized maps of a Pakistan air force base in Sargodha and some sensitive installations at Chashma Barrage outside the town," police official Nazir Ahmad said Friday. With AP