5 Americans convicted of terror charges in Pakistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — A Pakistani court convicted five young American Muslim men of terrorism charges Thursday and sentenced each to 10 years in jail, but the defendants said they'd been tortured and framed by local police.

The court found the men, all from the Washington area, guilty of plotting attacks in Pakistan and providing money to a terrorist organization, lawyers said.

The case spotlighted the radicalization of American Muslims and Pakistan's drawing power to would-be jihadists from around the world. The convictions amounted to an official warning to jihadi tourists to stay away.

The five men, none of whom had a criminal record, were accused of contacting an extremist linked to al Qaida over the Internet, who lured them to Pakistan.

Concerns about radicalized Muslim Americans hit the headlines after the unrelated attempt to blow up a car in New York's Times Square on May 1 by Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani American who pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges earlier this week.

The men will file an appeal as early as Monday, according to Khalid Farooq, the father of one of them, who said the verdict left them in a state of shock.

Before the verdict, "They were doing good, but today they were really disturbed, really disappointed," Farooq told McClatchy from Sargodha, the town in Pakistan's heartland Punjab province where the five were tried. "The verdict has really shaken my faith in the justice system here but I hope the high court will do the right thing."

The trial, conducted by an anti-terrorism court in a Sargodha jail, was closed to the news media and even to the men's families. The appeal will go before the high court in the city of Lahore, the most senior court in the province.

The five — Umar Farooq, 24, Waqar Khan, 22, Ramy Zamzam, 22, Ahmed Minni, 20, and Aman Hassan Yemer, 18 — were a close-net group of friends from the Washington suburbs. They were arrested in December in Sargodha, where Umar Farooq — Khalid Farooq's son — had family roots.

According to Sargodha police, the five were extremists who planned terrorist attacks in Pakistan and sought to travel to Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led international forces there. They'd disappeared from their homes in Washington, where one of them left what seemed to be a farewell video in which he railed against U.S. treatment of Muslims abroad.

The men claim that Pakistani police fabricated evidence against them and they wanted to go to Afghanistan only for charity work. Their lawyers shared their defense with McClatchy earlier this year. They said they'd told the court that police had fabricated e-mails purportedly between the men and an al Qaida operative and had planted maps on them, apparently of target sites. The lawyers said they had evidence that the e-mails were written after the men were arrested.

"How could the judge convict them?" said Hassan Dastagir Katchela, the men's lawyer. "I've just looked through the 52-page judgment and it is totally silent on the defense arguments. It simply reproduces verbatim the evidence of the prosecution witnesses."

Katchela said the men were so sure they were going to be acquitted that they'd begun speaking to him only about what they'd do after they were set free.

When the case moves from the anti-terrorism court to the Lahore High Court, a regular court, the standard of evidence will be much higher, meaning they stand a chance of reduced sentences or even of being released. Some critics of Pakistan's regular courts charge that they have a history of releasing terrorism suspects.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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