ISLAMABAD - Police are trying to determine whether five Americans detained in Pakistan had planned to attack a complex that houses nuclear-power facilities, authorities said yesterday.
The young Muslim men, from the Washington area, were picked up in Pakistan earlier this month in a case that has spurred fears that Westerners are traveling to the country to join militant groups.
Pakistani police and government officials have made escalating and, at times, seemingly contradictory allegations about the men's intentions. U.S. officials have been far more cautious, though they, too, are looking at charging the five.
A Pakistani government official alleged yesterday that the men had established contact with Taliban commanders and planned to attack sites in Pakistan. Earlier, however, local police accused the men of intending to fight in Afghanistan after meeting militant leaders.
The men had a map of Chashma Barrage, a complex that houses a water reservoir and other structures along with nuclear-power facilities, said Javed Islam, a senior police official in the Sargodha area of Punjab province.
He stressed that the men were carrying not a specific map of any nuclear-power plant, but rather one of the whole of Chashma Barrage.
The men also had exchanged e-mails about the area, Islam said. "We are also working to retrieve some of the deleted material in their computers," he said.
Pakistan has a nuclear-weapons arsenal, but it also has nuclear-power plants for civilian purposes.
It has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the main international pact meant to stem the spread of nuclear-weapons technology.
China helped Pakistan build the nuclear plant at Chashma, about 125 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad. Work on a second nuclear-power plant is expected to be completed in 2011.
Any nuclear activity in Pakistan tends to come under scrutiny because of the nation's history of leaking sensitive nuclear secrets, due to the actions of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the main architect of its atomic-weapons program. But as militancy has spread in Pakistan, officials have repeatedly insisted the nuclear-weapons program is safe.
Pakistani police plan to recommend that courts charge the five men with collecting and trying to collect material to carry out terrorist activities in Pakistan, police official Nazir Ahmad said. Punishment for those charges ranges from seven years to life in prison, he said.
Officials in both countries have said they expected the men would eventually be deported to the United States, but charging them in Pakistan could delay that.
In an interview yesterday, Punjab province Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the men had planned to meet Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and his deputy Qari Hussain in Pakistan's tribal regions before attacking sites in Pakistan.
The men are being held in Lahore. They have been identified as Ramy Zamzam, Waqar Hussain, Aman Yamar, Ahmad Abdul Minni, and Umer Farooq. Pakistani officials have given various spellings of their names.
A suspected U.S. missile strike killed three people yesterday in a northwest Pakistani tribal region where militants focused on fighting the West in Afghanistan are concentrated, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The missile strike was apparently the latest in a lengthy campaign of such attacks by the United States, which rarely discusses the covert program but has in the past said it has taken out several top al-Qaeda operatives. Pakistan publicly opposes the strikes but is believed to secretly aid them.
Yesterday's strike, in the Babar Raghzai area of North Waziristan, also wounded two people, the officials said. The victims' identities were not immediately clear.
- Associated Press