x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Pakistan sends five US suspects back to jail

Two of the group deny links to al Qa'eda but tell court they were trying to travel to Afghanistan to help destitute Muslims.

Policemen escort US militant suspects as they leave a court in Sargodha after a hearing yesterday.
Policemen escort US militant suspects as they leave a court in Sargodha after a hearing yesterday.

Five US militant suspects were sent back into custody by a Pakistani court yesterday, after telling judges that they wanted to help Muslims in war-torn Afghanistan, lawyers said. The five young men were arrested last month on suspicion of trying to contact groups with links to al Qa'eda and are facing terrorism charges for alleged plots to attack Pakistan, which could see them jailed for life.

The men appeared briefly in the courtroom in Sargodha town in eastern Pakistan, handcuffed and dressed in jeans and scarves. Two unarmed police guards were present in the courtroom as elite police commandos guarded the premises. Questioned by the judge, Anwer Nazeer, two of the men denied links to al Qa'eda but said they were trying to travel to Afghanistan. US, Nato and Afghan forces have been fighting a virulent Taliban insurgency there since 2001.

"One of the suspects said that they were going to Afghanistan to help the Muslims," the public prosecutor, Nadeem Akram Cheema, said. "When the judge addressed them and said 'so you admit that you were going to Afghanistan', another suspect said 'Yes, we were going to Afghanistan to help Muslims'," Mr Cheema said, without naming the suspects who spoke. Amir Abdullah Rokri, the defence lawyer, said his clients denied sending an e-mail to an al Qa'eda-linked figure named Saifullah.

"They told the judge that they have neither committed any crime in Pakistan, nor had they any intention to do so. They were going to Afghanistan to help injured and homeless people," Mr Rokri said. Mr Cheema said police requested that the five be remanded into custody, while Khalid Farooqi, the Pakistani father of two of the suspects, be freed. "Police requested the court to discharge Khalid Farooqi as there is no evidence against him and he had been convincing and trying to stop his sons from going for jihad," Mr Cheema said.

Both requests were granted yesterday. "The court released Khalid Farooqi and sent the others on judicial remand," Mr Rokri said. "The next hearing will be on January 18." Police have said investigations into the men's activities are complete, with the court requested to file charges under the antiterrorism act. "It has now been established that the five men had contacts with militants, some of them foreigners, in South Waziristan, and they had come to Pakistan to carry out acts of terrorism," Tahir Gujjar, a senior police officer, said on Saturday.

Pakistan has been fighting against the Taliban in South Waziristan, part of the north-west tribal belt on the Afghan border that US officials call al Qa'eda's main sanctuary and the most dangerous place on the planet. The area is also known as a training ground and haven for militants plotting attacks against foreign troops based in Afghanistan, and the United States is pressuring Islamabad to do more to monitor the porous frontier.

The suspects, who are all US citizens with dual nationality including two Pakistani-Americans, have also been questioned by the FBI. There has been concern in the United States that extremists within Pakistan might try to take control of nuclear assets or attack atomic facilities, despite insistence from western officials that the facilities are safe. A Pakistani court last month ordered that the five suspects could not be deported without its permission.

* Agence France-Presse