Five Americans Arrested In Pakistan

FBI agents are interviewing five young Muslim-American men being held in Pakistan. They suspect the men may have been trying to join forces fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, the latest developments in the case of five young Muslim Americans who are being held in Pakistan. FBI agents have reached the young men and started interviewing them. They think the men may have been trying to join forces that are fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is here with the details, and Dina, what have U.S. officials learned so far?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they're still trying to get of the bottom of this. But they have looked at these five young men's computers. They've interviewed them. They've actually retraced their steps from D.C. to Pakistan. Apparently, they arrived in Karachi on December 1st and then they made their way to Punjab province, which is in eastern Pakistan, where they were eventually grabbed by Pakistani authorities. But the question is once they got to Punjab, what is it that they did from there?

SIEGEL: And there were reports that these young men were trying, at least, to go to a terrorist training camps. Is that true?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there's some differing reports. The Pakistani authority have said that they contacted - these young men contacted jihadi groups linked to al-Qaida trying to get into one their training camps, or their terrorist training camps. U.S. officials have been a little bit more careful about talking what these young men have or haven't done. They aren't sure that the young men actually connected with any group linked to al-Qaida. And they say that they think the young men may have wanted to get some sort of training, but they are not quite sure how far they got.

SIEGEL: Now, do we know how these young men were eventually picked up or what tipped the Pakistanis off?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, in fact these young men were staying in a government compound in Punjab province. And neighbors had seen them and were basically worried that there are all these Americans who were holed up in this particular apartment. So, they tipped off the Pakistani officials. Now, U.S. officials told me that they knew the young men were there. And that since the young men had gone missing at the end November, they are all from Washington, D.C., or that area, and their parents discovered this video that made them think that maybe these young men had gone to Pakistan possibly to fight. Now, we talked to the head of the council of American-Islamic Relations today. His name is Nihad Awad and he'd seen this homemade video that the parents found and this is how he described it.

Mr. NIHAD AWAD (Council of American-Islamic Relations): I saw the video myself, yes. One person appeared in the video, making references to conflict between the West and Muslim nations, juxtaposed images of wartime.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Now, we don't exactly what kind of video this was. Whether this was some sort of martyrdom video, I mean, I'm hearing from differing people, U.S. officials, that this was just sort of a goodbye video and not necessarily a martyrdom video. But that video went to the FBI agents and then they immediately began looking for the young men in Pakistan. An official told me that they had been tracking these five Americans through Pakistan, knew exactly where they were and then they were somewhat surprised when the Pakistanis picked them up earlier this week.

SIEGEL: Are these young men now under arrest or have they been charged with anything?

TEMPLE-RASTON: So far, they are only being detained. Now, there are conflicting reports about what they've actually done. It's unclear whether the young men actually reached out to jihadi groups for training and were rejected perhaps, or they were planning to go up to Waziristan, this area between Pakistan and Afghanistan where a lot of terrorist camps are, and were on their way but hadn't gotten there yet. The FBI is still trying to figure that out. And that's sort of the rub here.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.

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Pakistan Police, FBI Question Men Tied To Militants

Pakistani police commandos gather outside a house where Pakistani security forces arrested five U.S. i i

Pakistani police commandos gather outside a house where Pakistani security forces arrested five U.S. nationals with alleged links to Al-Qaida. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani police commandos gather outside a house where Pakistani security forces arrested five U.S.

Pakistani police commandos gather outside a house where Pakistani security forces arrested five U.S. nationals with alleged links to Al-Qaida.

AFP/Getty Images

Authorities in Pakistan say they are interrogating five young American Muslim men wanted in the United States for alleged contacts with a Pakistani militant organization with links to al-Qaida.

Pakistani police in the city of Sargodha, 160 miles from Islamabad, say a team from the FBI arrived Thursday to question the men, who were detained Wednesday. The men, ages 18 to 25, are from northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area, and arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 30.

Sargodha Police Chief Usman Anwar says the five men "proudly confessed" that they wanted to join a holy war and had been in contact with local militants through the Internet. The Associated Press, quoting another Pakistani law enforcement official, reports that the men asked an al-Qaida linked group for training but were turned down because they did not have references from trusted militants.

"We were able to assess they had some nefarious designs in Pakistan. And in this process we have broken the backbone of a network in Pakistan which might have been used in some sort of terrorism here in Pakistan or elsewhere," Anwar said.

Anwar described the men as technically savvy and "serious-minded." The men said they were on a righteous path. He said the men are naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Pakistan.

Police confiscated personal information about the suspects taken from their telephones, computers and Internet accounts. Anwar said the data indicated they had come to Pakistan to join a jihad, or holy war.

"If this were the case, we would say they were out to damage the interests of the United States and in the same process the interests of the Pakistani government and Pakistani people," Anwar said.

Anwar said the men shared an e-mail account that allowed them to communicate using only draft e-mail messages. That way they eliminated the need to ever actually send an e-mail that could be intercepted by law enforcement agencies, Anwar said.

U.S. officials said the suspects are Ramy Zamzam, 22, an Egyptian-American thought to be a leader of the group and a dental student at Howard University; Ahmad Mini, 20, a native of Eritrea; Aman Hassan Yemer, 18, a native of Ethiopia; and two Pakistani-Americans: Waqar Khan, 20, and Umer Farooq, 25.

Police officials said a sixth man, identified as Khalid Farooq, is also in custody for harboring the group. U.S. officials said the men were captured in a house that belonged to relatives of Farooq.

Pakistani authorities say the young men had come to Pakistan ostensibly to meet prospective brides being arranged by their families. Anwar, who questioned the suspects for 18 hours, said the story was a cover to obtain visas to travel to Pakistan.

Anwar says the group was believed to be en route to Miran Shah, the capital of the tribal area of North Waziristan. The lawless city is also a crossroads for extremists on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

A lawyer for the families of the five men says the families have been cooperating with the FBI "since they discovered that the young men were missing."

Nina J. Ginsberg, a lawyer in Alexandria, Va., said in a written statement that the families "are extremely worried about the safety of their sons and do not believe that they could have been involved in the kind of activities currently being reported by Pakistani officials. Their only concern is that their sons be safely returned to the United States and they continue to look to the FBI and the State Department for assistance in securing their release."

Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston contributed to this report.

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