Accessibility links

Breaking News

Americans Held In Pakistan 'Wanted To Join Jihad'

SARGODHA, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Five young Americans detained in Pakistan, which is fighting an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency, wanted to join a jihad, or holy war, a police official has said.

The five men, students in their 20s from northern Virginia, were detained this week in the city of Sargodha in Punjab province, 190 kilometers southeast of Islamabad, security officials said.

"Our police came to know that some foreigners are staying here and their arrival here is suspicious. We watched them for one and a half days and then arrested them," Usman Anwar, police chief of Sargodha, told reporters.

"We seized laptops and other things from their possession. Later we came to know that they have come here with the intention of 'jihad.'"

The case will fan fears in the United States and other Western countries that the sons of immigrants from Muslim countries are being drawn to violent Islamist militancy.

Pakistan is under pressure to root out militants crossing its borders to attack American-led troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The U.S. FBI said in a statement released in the United States on Wednesday it was in contact with the families of the five as well as law-enforcement authorities in Pakistan.

Another Pakistani security official said the five were detained on December 7. They had flown into the city of Karachi on November 30 and then traveled to Lahore on December 5, and then on to Sargodha, he said.

"No charge has been framed against them. Investigations are under way as to whether they have any links with extremist groups," said the second Pakistani official.

Officials said three Pakistanis had also been detained, one of whom was believed to have been linked to a 2007 suicide bomb attack on an air force bus outside an air base in Sargodha in which eight people were killed.

"Some mobile phone SIMs and computer disks have also been recovered," said another Pakistani agent.

'Disturbing' Video

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said it was trying to confirm the identities of the five and was working closely with the Pakistan government.

Pakistan news reports said the suspects were being investigated for links with the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group. The Jaish-e-Mohammad, or Army of the Prophet Muhammad, has links with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

It is one of several factions with roots in Punjab province that have been battling Indian forces in disputed Kashmir.

The group was suspected of involvement in several high-profile attacks including the murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 and an assassination attempt on former president Pervez Musharraf.

Rashid Rauf, a British militant suspected of being ringleader of a 2006 plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic, was also a Jaish member.

Officials said one of the Americans was of Egyptian origin, one of Yemeni origin and another of Eritrean origin.

A U.S. Muslim civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said it brought the case to the attention of U.S. law-enforcement authorities this month after family members informed CAIR of the men's disappearance.

The national executive director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, told a news conference an 11-minute video was left behind that appeared to be a "farewell" from the men.

Awad said he had watched the video and found it disturbing. It did not say what the men planned but dealt with conflicts in the world and featured verses of the Koran, he said.

News of the arrests came as a Chicago man with Pakistani roots, accused of scouting targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court on December 9.