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Five Americans arrested in Pakistan: Are more US citizens joining jihad?

The five US citizens arrested this week in Pakistan shed light on a growing trend: More US citizens appear to be joining global jihad. Pakistan is taking steps to clamp down.

By Carol HuangStaff writer / December 10, 2009

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – The arrest of five Americans in Pakistan seeking to join jihad has drawn further attention to a trend of Westerners coming here to sit at the feet of veteran Islamist fighters, then plot terror attacks at home or wherever else their passports allow them to travel.

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But Wednesday’s arrests also show that Pakistani authorities are paying more attention to the threat and taking steps to clamp down, even if they are not taking on the local jihadi groups themselves.

The five US citizens – three of them of Pakistani origin – were arrested Wednesday in a home linked to militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), in the town of Sargodha in southern Punjab Province.

The arrests are just the latest evidence of American Muslims seeking to use militant training received in Pakistan to plot or help execute terror attacks. American David Headley pled not guilty in a Chicago courtroom on Wednesday to charges he scouted locations for last year’s Mumbai terror attack, which killed 174 people. Najibullah Zazi, arrested in September, faces trial for allegedly plotting a bomb attack in New York.

“It seems [the Pakistani authorities] have become more conscious of this international dimension of these groups based in Punjab,” says Hassan Askari Rizvi, a security analyst based in Lahore. “From this case it seems they are pursuing and quietly monitoring who goes on there, who meets with them,” a practice “which may not have been there in the past.”

Closely followed, then arrested

According to officials cited in media reports, the police began tracking the Americans from the moment they flew into Karachi last month. The five men then journeyed to Hyderabad, back to Karachi, then Lahore, and finally Sargodha.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to determine if these men are the same Americans who went missing in Virginia in November and left behind an alarming video saying that Muslims needed to be defended. It did not mention specific plans but appeared to be a “farewell,” said Nihad Awad, the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who is working with the men’s families.

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