ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistani authorities said yesterday that they planned to recommend criminal charges against the five Virginia men recently arrested in the country, a development that could delay or prevent the men's handover to the United States.
The five have been in detention since their arrest two weeks ago, but they have not yet been criminally charged. A senior police official in the city of Sargodha, where the men were arrested, said yesterday that investigators had concluded the five intended to join extremist organizations and "get involved in terrorist acts."
Police plan to recommend terrorism charges to the court once their investigation has concluded, said the official, Tahir Gujar. The court will ultimately decide whether to prosecute.
Terrorism charges, if proven, could lead to lifetime prison terms. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Islamabad declined to comment on the developments and referred questions to the Justice Department.
U.S. officials have said in the past that the young Muslim men are likely to be deported to the United States, where they also could face criminal prosecution. The FBI is looking into what potential charges they could face in the United States.
The men - Ramy Zamzam, 22; Ahmad A. Minni, 20; Umar Chaudhry, 24; Waqar Khan, 22; and Aman Hassan Yemer, 18 - left the United States shortly after Thanksgiving without the knowledge of their parents, who later alerted authorities that they were missing. Pakistani officials have given various spellings of their names.
Pakistani police and intelligence officials have said the five were in contact for months with a Taliban recruiter.
Yesterday, a local court in Sargodha granted police 10 more days to hold the men for additional questioning. A police official, Amir Abbas, told the judge that the men had mentioned a Pakistani nuclear power plant in northwest Punjab province in a saved message in their joint e-mail account, but he said more evidence needed to be collected.
Officials say the men hoped to join al-Qaeda and work with groups to battle U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan - an aspiration that their Washington-area friends and religious advisers have said they never detected.
The five are accused of using Facebook and YouTube to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan.
"We have seized maps of a Pakistan air force base in Sargodha and some sensitive installations at Chashma Barrage outside the town," police official Nazir Ahmad said yesterday, according to the Associated Press. The Chashma Barrage includes a major reservoir and large power plants that were installed by China.
Ahmad said police were still trying to track down a Taliban recruiter who they allege was in touch with the five suspects, AP reported.