N.Va. men allegedly asked to join jihadists, Pakistan says
Friday, December 11, 2009
Five men from Northern Virginia who were arrested Tuesday in Pakistan traveled abroad hoping to work with jihadist groups and battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said Thursday.
The men contacted extremist organizations, including two with links to al-Qaeda, and proudly told their Pakistani interrogators, "We are here for jihad," said Usman Anwar, the local Pakistani police chief whose officers interrogated the men, all Muslims from the Alexandria area.
Anwar said police recovered jihadist literature, laptop computers and maps of parts of Pakistan when the men were arrested near Lahore. The maps included areas where the Taliban train. The men first made contact with the two extremist organizations by e-mail in August, officials said, but the groups apparently rejected their overtures because they couldn't find people to vouch for them.
U.S. officials said they are exploring possible criminal charges in a case that has morphed from a missing-person investigation prompted by concerned family members in the Alexandria area, who contacted the FBI.
"To prove something in a U.S. court requires meticulous effort, so we want to be cautious and careful not to characterize anyone as a terrorist unless and until we are certain that charges can be filed," said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
But, the official added, "These aren't just hikers lost in the woods."
The case has prompted concern about the growing threat of home-grown terrorism, but U.S. law enforcement officials cautioned that they need to do a more-thorough investigation before they reach the same conclusions as their Pakistani counterparts. Some FBI agents are still en route to Pakistan, and agents on the ground there have not yet interviewed all the men, officials said. They are also continuing to review their computers and other evidence.
The revelations from Pakistan and the mixed signals from U.S. officials add to the intrigue over why five young men, with no apparent history of terrorist ties or activity -- men described by those who know them as devout but not radicalized Muslims -- went overseas without telling their families and became immersed in a complex international terrorism probe.
Their families and spiritual advisers say the men offered no hints that this was coming. "Their parents are saying, we had no idea. The youth director is saying, we had no idea. The mosque is saying, we had no idea," said Ashraf Nubani, an attorney for the ICNA Center, a small, dilapidated mosque in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County where the men met in a youth group and some of them worshiped. "There are two things," Nubani said. "Either they never did these things . . . or they kept this from everyone."
The men, who range in age from 19 to 25, were identified by Pakistani officials and sources close to the case as Umar Chaudhry, Waqar Khan, Ahmad A. Minni, Aman Hassan Yemer and Ramy Zamzam. Chaudhry's father, Khalid, was also arrested in Pakistan and was being questioned, authorities said. The young men all are U.S. citizens, and some were born in the United States.
A Howard dental student
Several sources with direct knowledge of the investigation said that Zamzam, a dental student at Howard University who did well in school and was involved in a much-praised project to raise money to build mosques, is the man in a video the men left behind. Law enforcement officials said the video had jihadist overtones, and a prominent Muslim leader described it as a farewell statement.