US men in Pakistan 'jihad quest'
|Saturday, December 12,2009 23:00|
Five US men have been questioned in Pakistan on suspicion of wanting to join a "holy war", officials said.
The men, students in their 20s from northern Virginia, were detained on Monday in the city of Sargodha in Punjab province, 190km southeast of Islamabad, security officials said on Thursday.
"They are believed to have come here to join jihad," one Pakistani security official said.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in a statement released on Wednesday that it was in contact with the families of the five men, as well as law-enforcement authorities in Pakistan.
"No charge has been framed against them. Investigations are underway as to whether they have any links with extremist groups," a second Pakistani official said.
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," a US official said on Thursday.
Pakistani news reports said the suspects were being investigated for links with the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad group, which has links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
It is one of several factions with roots in Punjab province that have for years been fighting Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Jaish-e-Mohammad was suspected of involvement in several high-profile attacks including the murder of Daniel Pearl, a US Wall Street Journal reporter, in 2002, and an assassination attempt on Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president.
Officials said that one of the Americans is of Egyptian origin, one is of Yemeni origin and another is of Eritrean origin.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a US Muslim civil rights group, said it brought the case to the attention of US law-enforcement authorities this month after family members informed CAIR of the men's disappearance.
Nihad Awad, the national executive director of CAIR, told a news conference that an 11-minute video was left behind that appeared to be a "farewell" from the men.
The video did not state what the men planned, but that it mentioned world conflicts and featured verses of the Quran, he said.
News of the arrests came as a US national with Pakistani roots, accused of scouting targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court on Wednesday at his first hearing since his October arrest.
David Headley, 49, is being investigated in the US for his alleged ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Punjab-based group blamed for the two-day rampage in Mumbai, in which 166 people were killed.