American terror suspects' trial in Pakistan: Conviction may be tough

The trial of five young Americans detained in Pakistan on terror charges began today. Police are pressing for life sentences, but the case may be difficult against them.

K.M. Chaudary/AP
Pakistani police officers with detained American Muslims leave a police station to send them into prison in Sargodha, Pakistan, Monday.

The trial of five Americans detained in Pakistan on terror charges began in the eastern city of Sargodha on Monday, as the the group denied plotting terror attacks. Citing a lack of evidence, the court ordered the release of Khalid Farooq, the father of one of the accused who had been charged by police with harboring them.

Observers say securing a conviction against the men may also prove difficult in the face of what appears to be inconclusive evidence. Police have been given until the next hearing on Jan. 18 to make their case, and have stated they will press for life sentences.

The five young Muslims were detained in early December in a case which has raised fears over young Westerners traveling to Pakistan to receive training and fight coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan. When detained, the group was in possession a map of Chashma Barrage, located near nuclear power facilities, in Punjab province. According to a report compiled by investigators, the group had also been in contact with an Arab American named Saifullah who had promised to ensure their passage to Afghanistan to fight US forces there. The members of the group are Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmed Minni, Aman Hassan Yemer, and Ramy Zamzam.

“Visiting Pakistan on valid visas is not a crime. It may be difficult to make the charges stick,” says Badar Alam, a senior editor at Herald, a leading Pakistani monthly magazine. Instead authorities may rely on a confession by the men made to investigators that they planned to go to Afghanistan and fight. Dr. Usman Anwar, police chief of Sargodha, told the Pakistani daily Dawn that the group had shown no remorse and would do everything over again.

One of the men, Ramy Zamzan, re-iterated this position while entering the courtroom today, telling reporters: “We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.” Zamzan was also reported to have made a martyrdom video, now in the possession of the FBI, according to the Pakistani investigators' report. The men's defense lawyer Ameer Abdullah Rokri told the Associated Press that the group “only intended to travel to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers who are in trouble, who are bleeding and who are being victimized by Western forces”.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Pakistani and US officials have said it is likely the men will be extradited to the US, despite a Pakistani court order last month seeking to forbid such a move, which is seen as politically sensitive. The extradition and subsequent execution of Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani citizen who fled from the US to his homeland in 1993 after shooting dead two CIA employees at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., led to mass protests in his hometown of Quetta.

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