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Pakistan charges 5 Northern Virginia men in alleged terrorism plot

From left: Waqir Khan, Ramy Zamzam, Umar Chaudhry, Ahmad A. Minni, Aman Hasan Yemer are seen in Pakistan.
From left: Waqir Khan, Ramy Zamzam, Umar Chaudhry, Ahmad A. Minni, Aman Hasan Yemer are seen in Pakistan. (AP)

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The men's families and Nina Ginsberg, an Alexandria attorney for them, declined to comment. But Nihad Awad, the Islamic council's executive director, said Wednesday that they were devastated by the charges and are planning to travel to Pakistan for the trial. "We hope for an open, transparent court and due process of law," Awad said.

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U.S. and Pakistani officials initially said the men would probably be deported to Northern Virginia, where they are under investigation by the FBI. Lindsay Godwin, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington Field Office, said the bureau is coordinating with Pakistani officials and working with the men's families, who are cooperating.

But U.S. officials said investigators are waiting to see how events play out before considering charges in an American court.

At Wednesday's hearing, Judge Anwar Nazir accepted a recommendation from prosecutors to charge the men with counts that include planning to wage war against powers in alliance with Pakistan, planning to commit terrorist acts in the territories of Afghanistan and the United States, and contributing money to banned organizations. The trial's evidentiary phase will begin March 31.

Prosecutors said their evidence included maps in the men's possession of Sargodha Air Base and the Chashma nuclear power plant, near Mianwali, and the men's confessions -- confessions the defense intends to challenge as coerced. Pakistani officials provided few details but have said the men were in contact for months with a mysterious Taliban recruiter named Saifullah, were trying to join al-Qaeda and were hoping to battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Legal experts said prosecutors have a relatively low burden of proof under Pakistan's sweeping antiterrorism laws, though it's not clear appellate courts would accept their broad language. The men could be convicted, for example, of raising money for banned groups even if they didn't have direct knowledge the money would be used for terrorist activity, as long as prosecutors showed a "reasonable person" should know.

"If in fact they were naive or just caught up in their desire to be humanitarians, that will not necessarily, at least based on the text of the statute, save them from conviction," said Anil Kalhan, a Drexel University law school professor who has written about Pakistani law and politics.

Mohammed is a special correspondent in Sargodha. Brulliard reported from Mingora, Pakistan. Staff writer Brigid Schulte contributed to this report.

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