x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pakistan will hold US Muslims until after trial

Group of men who allegedly tried to join jihadist group are being investigated for crimes including robbery and car theft.

LAHORE // Pakistan will not deport five young American Muslims arrested on suspicion of trying to join a jihadist group fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan until and unless they have been cleared of criminal charges, the interior ministry said yesterday. "They are being investigated for everything and anything under the sun - petty crimes, robberies, car stealing, money laundering," Rashid Mazari, a spokesman for the ministry, said.

"Alongside these criminal charges, they are also obviously being investigated for their suspected role in planning terror attacks against the Pakistani state," he said. If and when they are cleared, the Americans will be deported back to the US, where they could face further charges. Usman Anwar, the arresting officer, said the investigation, which has included members of the FBI, into the five men was focusing on e-mails seized from their computer hard drives.

"When we arrested them, we weren't too sure about their degree of involvement with terrorist organisations," he said. "But certain materials were obtained after the arrest which led us to believe that their intentions were dangerous." When pressed for details, Mr Anwar, the district police chief in Sargodha, in the eastern province of Punjab, said many of the e-mails were addressed to a man named "Saifullah", which he said was a code name for an al Qa'eda operative.

"The e-mails also revealed other vital details, making us realise that their intentions were to attack sensitive installations in Pakistan." At the time of arrest, police recovered a Pakistani map from the sock of one of the men on which the city of Miranshah, in the north-western region along the border with Afghanistan, was highlighted. "The warning signals went off because they were five Americans in a country which is right now the hotbed of terrorism and they claimed they were here for a wedding ceremony which wasn't taking place anytime soon," he said. "They tried to contact jihadi groups in Pakistan through YouTube and other websites," he said.

The five men were clean-shaven, wore western clothing, spoke English with an American accent and were between the ages of 20 and 30. All are American citizens, two of which are of Pakistani descent, while the others are of Ethiopian, Egyptian and Eritrean extraction. Ramy Zamzam, an Egyptian-American dental student at Howard University in Washington, DC and a former president of the Muslim Student Association's DC Council, had been described in news accounts as a model student.

All five entered Pakistan on tourist visas, allegedly to attend a wedding. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group that helped bring the case of the missing men to the FBI's attention, the five left the country at the end of November without telling their families. It was their visit to the office of Jamat-ud-Dawa, an Islamist charity linked to Lashkar-i-Taiba, a banned militant group, which raised questions about their intentions. Earlier they had visited a madrasa linked to the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group in the southern city of Hyderabad saying they wanted to join the jihad, a security official told Reuters. In both cases, they were turned away.

They were arrested on Wednesday in Sargodha, a gateway to the tribal lands of Waziristan where al Qa'eda and the Taliban have their bases. Amir Sherazi, a member of the team interrogating the men, said they were being questioned in five separate cells. "They are in good health. They are eating, he said. * The National