Pakistan Indicts Americans On Terrorism Charges
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Five young Americans detained in the Pakistani city of Sargodha were formally indicted today under Pakistan's anti-terror act. They could face life imprisonment if found guilty. The defendants were arrested in December shortly after they arrived in Pakistan from their homes in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. The five men appeared in court and denied the charges.
From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.
JULIE McCARTHY: The proceeding was closed to the media, but the attorney for the five defendants said they have been charged with five crimes. They include conspiracy to commit terror attacks in Pakistan, and conspiring to wage war against nations allied with Pakistan. A third count alleges that the Americans, aged 19 to 25, were planning to commit what the court said were acts of depredation and terrorism against Afghanistan and the United States.
Attorney Hasan Dastagir described his clients as in good shape and in high spirits.
Mr. HASAN DASTAGIR (Attorney): There was a break for at least three hours. And they were sitting with me with - discussing the case, and they were joking and they were - often, they were OK.
McCARTHY: Dastagir says none of this is a joking matter, and the five young Americans are very concerned about their fate in the Pakistani criminal justice system. But Dastagir says his clients do not want to be transferred to the United States for fear of being denied a fair trial.
Mr. DASTAGIR: And they might be sent to prison for lengthy terms of sentence. So they have these genuine fears.
McCARTHY: In the trial, set to begin March 31st, the defense will argue that the five Americans were not intending to commit any acts of terror but rather, sought to travel to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. The Sargodha district police chief, Usman Anwar, says that story doesnt hold up.
Dr. USMAN ANWAR (Chief, Sagodha District Police): They must have some invitation from the Afghanistan government or from proper NGO, which is really serving humanity out there, like the Red Cross or anything like that. That never happened. So the three - is quite weak, I could say.
McCARTHY: Authorities allege that the Americans were in communication with an al-Qaida operative and had made contact with banned Pakistani extremist groups. It later emerged that these groups did not want to take in the young Americans, believing them to be naive and unprepared.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.