Authorities in Pakistan say they are interrogating five young American Muslim men wanted in the United States for alleged contacts with a Pakistani militant organization with links to al-Qaida.
Pakistani police in the city of Sargodha, 160 miles from Islamabad, say a team from the FBI arrived Thursday to question the men, who were detained Wednesday. The men, ages 18 to 25, are from northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area, and arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 30.
Sargodha Police Chief Usman Anwar says the five men "proudly confessed" that they wanted to join a holy war and had been in contact with local militants through the Internet. The Associated Press, quoting another Pakistani law enforcement official, reports that the men asked an al-Qaida linked group for training but were turned down because they did not have references from trusted militants.
"We were able to assess they had some nefarious designs in Pakistan. And in this process we have broken the backbone of a network in Pakistan which might have been used in some sort of terrorism here in Pakistan or elsewhere," Anwar said.
Anwar described the men as technically savvy and "serious-minded." The men said they were on a righteous path. He said the men are naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Pakistan.
Police confiscated personal information about the suspects taken from their telephones, computers and Internet accounts. Anwar said the data indicated they had come to Pakistan to join a jihad, or holy war.
"If this were the case, we would say they were out to damage the interests of the United States and in the same process the interests of the Pakistani government and Pakistani people," Anwar said.
Anwar said the men shared an e-mail account that allowed them to communicate using only draft e-mail messages. That way they eliminated the need to ever actually send an e-mail that could be intercepted by law enforcement agencies, Anwar said.
U.S. officials said the suspects are Ramy Zamzam, 22, an Egyptian-American thought to be a leader of the group and a dental student at Howard University; Ahmad Mini, 20, a native of Eritrea; Aman Hassan Yemer, 18, a native of Ethiopia; and two Pakistani-Americans: Waqar Khan, 20, and Umer Farooq, 25.
Police officials said a sixth man, identified as Khalid Farooq, is also in custody for harboring the group. U.S. officials said the men were captured in a house that belonged to relatives of Farooq.
Pakistani authorities say the young men had come to Pakistan ostensibly to meet prospective brides being arranged by their families. Anwar, who questioned the suspects for 18 hours, said the story was a cover to obtain visas to travel to Pakistan.
Anwar says the group was believed to be en route to Miran Shah, the capital of the tribal area of North Waziristan. The lawless city is also a crossroads for extremists on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
A lawyer for the families of the five men says the families have been cooperating with the FBI "since they discovered that the young men were missing."
Nina J. Ginsberg, a lawyer in Alexandria, Va., said in a written statement that the families "are extremely worried about the safety of their sons and do not believe that they could have been involved in the kind of activities currently being reported by Pakistani officials. Their only concern is that their sons be safely returned to the United States and they continue to look to the FBI and the State Department for assistance in securing their release."
Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston contributed to this report.