Five US jihadis pleaded "not guilty" before a Pakistani court Wednesday to charges of plotting terrorist attacks inside the country and neighboring Afghanistan, in a case that's been overshadowed by the so-called "Jihad Jane" and "Jihad Jamie" stories.
The five young men – in their late teens and early 20s – left their homes in suburban northern Virginia in November and traveled to Pakistan, where they were arrested in December, police say. Reporters have no access to the trial, but heard the men yell "we are being tortured" as they were taken from a previous appearance before the court in January. Pakistani officials deny the claims and ruled out extradition.
Charges include conspiracy to commit terror attacks in Pakistan, planning to commit terror acts against friendly countries, and funding banned jihadi groups. If convicted, the five Americans could face life in Pakistani prison. US embassy officials have reportedly visited the men in prison and attended the trial proceedings but have struck a public posture of minimal interference.
The case – even with the accusations of torture and the secrecy of the trial – has failed to light up the Internet, at least not compared to the case of another American who stands accused of terror ties: Colleen LaRose, also known as "Jihad Jane."
Calling Ms. LaRose "media catnip," columnist Dan Garnder at the Ottawa Citizen takes a shot at understanding the "Jihad Jane" media phenomenon, arguing she seemed to fit a post-9/11 frame of Islamic terrorism, but with "a delightful sprinkle of novelty" that she was a blond American woman.
The five Americans held in Pakistan perhaps no longer offer quite the same blond "novelty" factor since their ethnic backgrounds are Pakistani, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Egyptian. (One blogger referred to them saying: "Five 'Americans' (and I use the term very loosely) ... "
But as a Monitor story noted in December, their middle class, suburban, and educated backgrounds have surprised American Muslims:
"This might be the most clear wake-up call for the American Muslim community," says Ihsan Bagby, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "These were the kids who should have been clear about what Islam says, but somehow they got a radical message. I'm not sure they got it from their parents or the mosque they attended – so where did they get it from? That's the question the American Muslim community wants an answer to."
The five, who grew up within blocks of each other, find themselves in custody partly due to family members reporting them missing.
Parents alerted the Council on American-Islamic Relations that the young men left behind a video expressing extremist sentiments. CAIR then alerted US officials, who alerted the Pakistanis. Their case will resume on March 31 with evidence from the prosecutors.