ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities said Friday that they plan to recommend criminal charges against the five Northern Virginia men recently arrested in this country, a development that could delay or prevent the men's handover to the United States.
The five have been in detention since their arrest two weeks ago, but they have not been criminally charged. A senior police official in the city of Sargodha, where the men were arrested, said Friday that investigators had concluded the five intended to join extremist organizations.
Police plan to recommend terrorism charges to the court once their investigation has concluded, said the official, Tahir Gujar. The decision on whether to prosecute ultimately will be made by the court.
Terror charges, if proven, could lead to lifetime prison sentences. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Islamabad declined to comment on the developments and referred questions to the Justice Department.
U.S. officials have said that the men are likely to be deported to the United States, where they could face criminal prosecution.
The men, who range in age from 18 to 24, left the United States shortly after Thanksgiving without the knowledge of their parents, who later alerted authorities that they were missing. Pakistani police and intelligence officials have said the men — Ramy Zamzam, 22; Ahmed Minni, 20; Umar Chaudhry, 24; Waqar Khan, 22; and Aman Yemer, 18 — were in contact for months with a Taliban recruiter.
On Friday, a local court in Sargodha granted police 10 more days to hold the men for additional questioning. A police official, Amir Abbas, told the judge that the students had mentioned a Pakistani nuclear power plant in northwest Punjab province in a saved message in their joint e-mail account but said more evidence needed to be collected.
Officials say the men hoped to join al-Qaida and work with jihadist groups to battle U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan, an aspiration that their D.C.-area friends and religious advisers have said they never detected.