Worried father turned in 5 young Americans to Pakistani police

SARGODHA, Pakistan — Pakistani police arrested five American Muslims this week on suspicion of planning terrorist actions after Khalid Farooq, the father of one of the men, turned them in, alarmed that they were determined to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials and friends of the family said Friday.

FBI agents and U.S. Embassy officials were questioning the five, ages 18 to 24 and all from Washington suburbs, in the central Pakistani town of Sargodha.

The five had an Internet-powered interest in jihad, or holy war, and had e-mail contact with a shadowy Pakistani figure called "Saifullah" whom authorities haven't identified, police said.

The men's planning appeared amateurish, however. Although police in Sargodha played up the Americans' alleged links to al-Qaida and suggested they were involved in a major terrorist plot, the absence of radical connections and lack of any combat training may have thwarted their purported ambitions.

Police said that after searching in vain for a radical group that would accept them, the five ended up in Sargodha, where Umar Farooq, Khalid Farooq's son, has family links. According to the police, their Pakistani contact told them to proceed to North Waziristan, part of Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal area bordering Afghanistan.

The five were arrested Wednesday in a midmorning raid. U.S. intelligence had tipped their Pakistani counterparts about the men, whom their families reported missing in late November. But it was only after Khalid Farooq, 55, contacted police that they moved in. Police said they also had detained Khalid Farooq as a precautionary measure.

Khalid Farooq, a U.S. national, feared that if his son made it to Afghanistan, he probably would never return, police said.

Khalid Farooq "used all modes to persuade them first (to stop). He used a harsh tone, he used a loving tone, he even locked them in the house," said Abbas Majeed Marwat, a senior police official who had interviewed some of the men. Then, "Khalid Farooq informed the police about the designs of his son and his friends."

All the men were friends from the Washington area. In addition to Umar Farooq, 24, Waqar Hussain, 22, is of Pakistani origin. His family came from the southern port city of Karachi. The other three are Ramy Zamzam, 22, born in Egypt, who had traveled several times to Saudi Arabia, and two young men apparently of Ethiopian origin, Ahmad Minni, who turned 20 last week, and Aman Yemer, 18. According to Marwat, Yemer showed "repentance" under questioning.

Pakistan and U.S. officials said the men were likely to be deported to the U.S.

The men grew up attending youth activities at the mosque in Alexandria, Va., but came less frequently after starting college, said Dr. Essam Tellawi, a gastroenterologist who was the volunteer who gave Friday's sermons. He said the families of the men were suffering emotionally, and asked people to pray for them. "This is our country. We respect the laws of this country," Tellawi said. "We have been very cooperative with the law enforcement community."

Abu Maryam, who spoke at a news conference following Friday prayer services, said youth activities at the mosque focused on keeping kids busy through sports and other activities. Religious discussions centered on basic issues, such as prayer and fasting.

"Our group discussions never talked about politics ... never talked about fighting against anyone," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Wannabe terrorists to be sentenced

Federal prosecutors are seeking hefty prison terms against two Atlanta-area men who were convicted as homegrown, wannabe terrorists. Syed Haris Ahmed, a former Georgia Tech student, and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, of Roswell, were convicted in separate trials earlier this year. They are set to be sentenced Monday. In court filings, prosecutors are asking U.S. District Judge Bill Duffey to sentence Ahmed to 15 years in prison, the maximum time he faces for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Prosecutors seek a 20-year prison term for Sadequee, who was convicted of four counts, including conspiring to provide material support to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist organization. Lawyers representing the two men note that others convicted of terrorist-related offenses have received more lenient punishment.

Cox Newspapers

Worried father turned in 5 young Americans to Pakistani police 12/11/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2009 11:19pm]

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