Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Court Convicts 5 Americans

A court in the Pakistani city of Sargodha has sentenced the five Americans being held here since December to 10 years in prison for conspiring to act against the state of Pakistan, and for funneling money to banned extremist groups. Three other charges were dropped. The defense attorney says they'll appeal, and that the evidence is flimsy in some cases, fabricated in others.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Across the border in Pakistan today, five young American Muslims were found guilty of terrorism-related offenses. Their sentence: 10 years in jail. During the trial, the accused maintained their innocence and said that they had intended to travel to Afghanistan to help Muslims displaced by the war there.

From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy has the story.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Judge Mian Muhammad Anwar Nazir did not buy the humanitarian defense. He convicted the five Americans from northern Virginia on charges of conspiring to commit acts of terror against the state of Pakistan and of providing funds to outlawed groups. In handing down his ruling in the closed courtroom, defense counsel Hassan Dastagir said the judge minced no words.

Mr. HASSAN DASTAGIR (Defense Council): His exact words are - I'm reading his exact words, a clear and loud message is to be given that Pakistan is not open to any Tom, Dick and Harry to fulfill his evil designs.

MCCARTHY: Prosecutors say that email and cell phone records proved that the five men were plotting attacks on sensitive installations inside Pakistan. They include the airbase in the city of Sargodha, where the men were arrested six months ago. For the crime of conspiring to commit terrorism, they were sentenced to 10 years.

Their conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act prescribing contributions to banned groups drew another five years. The terms would be served concurrently. The prosecution also said the accused Americans had made contact with a known militant, Kuri Sifula(ph), who reportedly has extensive contacts with al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Deputy prosecutor Rana Bakhtiar says email traffic linked Sifula to the five accused.

Mr. RANA BAKHTIAR (Deputy Prosecutor): This has been established through evidence. They have been contacting with one Sifula, and they said they want to take part some activities here in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

MCCARTHY: The odyssey of the five accused is part of a recent phenomenon: American Muslims attempting to join militant groups fighting the United States in places like Afghanistan.

The U.S. Embassy spokesman here said the U.S. respects the decision of the Pakistani court. Tonight, the shaken parents of the defendants huddled with their attorney to plot an appeal.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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