SARGODHA, Pakistan, (AP) – Five American men were convicted Thursday on terror charges by a Pakistani court and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case that has heightened concerns about Westerners traveling to Pakistan to contact al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups.
The trial of the young Muslim men from the Washington, D.C., area was sensitive for the U.S., which has a duty to ensure justice for its citizens abroad but also has pushed Pakistan to crack down on militancy.
The men were arrested in Pakistan in December after their families reported them missing. Prosecutors said e-mail records and witness statements proved they were plotting terror attacks in Pakistan and conspired to wage war against nations allied with it, a reference to Afghanistan, where the men were alleged to have been traveling.
The judge handed down two prison terms for each man, one for 10 years and the other for five. A copy of the decision seen by The Associated Press said the terms were to be served concurrently.
The men said nothing when the verdict was read out, Deputy Prosecutor Rana Bakhtiar said. Previously, the men claimed they had been tortured by Pakistani police and FBI agents. The allegations were denied by authorities in Pakistan and the United States. Their lawyers said they would appeal the case.
The trial moved with unusual speed in a country where cases often drag out for years and where terror convictions are rare and often overturned on appeal. The trial was closed to journalists and observers and was heard by a single judge in a special anti-terrorism court.
The men have been identified as Ramy Zamzam of Egyptian descent, Waqar Khan and Umar Farooq of Pakistani descent, and Aman Hassan Yemer and Ahmed Minni of Ethiopian descent. One allegedly left behind a farewell video in the United States showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.
Umar Farooq’s father, Khalid Farooq, called the verdict “a great disappointment” and insisted the men had wanted to go to Afghanistan to do humanitarian work, not fight. The men also wanted to see Umar get married in Sargodha, he said.
The men were arrested at Farooq’s home in Sargodha after he said he told them to avoid making the trip. Farooq, an American of Pakistani descent who also has a home and business in Alexandria, Virginia, was held for 20 days.
“I will right away go to the high court, even to the International Court of Justice, to get these innocent youths justice,” said Farooq, who was not allowed to watch the trial. “I have not had a chance to see my son or the other fellows. I hear they are very frustrated and need to be consoled.”
“It was not a fit case for conviction,” defense lawyer Hassan Dastghir said. “I am confident that we will win the case at appeals level.”
American officials have said little in public about the trial, and on Thursday, embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire said only that the U.S. respects the decision of the Pakistani courts.
Washington is trying to counter anti-American sentiment in Pakistan’s government, security forces and media, as it pushes Islamabad to flush out the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant networks who use its territory.