SARGODHA, Pakistan â€“ Five Americans detained in Pakistan denied Monday they planned to carry out terrorist attacks, as a court granted police two weeks to prepare terrorism charges against them, their defense lawyer said.
The young Muslim men from the Washington, D.C., area were arrested in early December in the eastern Pakistani city ofin a case that has spurred fears that Westerners are traveling to Pakistan to join . Pakistani police have said they plan to seek life sentences for the men under the country’s anti-terrorism law.
The men, aged 19 to 25, denied they had ties with al-Qaida or other militant groups during a court appearance Monday in Sargodha, said their attorney, Ameer Abdullah Rokri.
“They told the court that they did not have any plan to carry out any terrorist act inside or outside Pakistan,” said Rokri. “They said that they only intended to travel to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers who are in trouble, who are bleeding and who are being victimized by Western forces.”
Rokri did not say whether the men planned to fight coalition troops in Afghanistan or simply provide humanitarian assistance. But one of the men indicated they had planned to wage holy war.
“We are not terrorists,” Ramy Zamzam told The Associated Press as he entered the courtroom. “We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.”
The Americans arrived amid tight security. About a dozen police cars escorted the prison van inside the court premises as officers manned the rooftops of surrounding buildings. The men wore handcuffs as they walked into the courthouse for their hearing.
The court remanded the men to prison for 14 days to give police time to prepare their case, said Rokri.
“We have told the court that police have completed their investigation and have enough evidence against the five suspects to try them under anti-terrorism law,” saidMatiullah Shahani.
Police have not said what the group’s intended target was, but authorities say the men had a map of nuclear power facilities that includes a water reservoir and other structures. It lies in the populous province of Punjab, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Islamabad.â€” a complex located near
Pakistan has a nuclear weapons arsenal, but also for civilian purposes.
The court ordered the release of one of the suspects’ fathers, Khalid Farooq, because of a lack of evidence that he had committed any crime, said police officer Tahir Shirazai.
It was unclear if Farooq, also a U.S. citizen, was still in custody since authorities said they had released him more than two weeks ago.
Pakistani police and government officials have made a series of escalating and, at times, seemingly contradictory allegations about the men’s intentions, while U.S. officials have been far more cautious. The U.S. is also looking at charging the men â€” Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmed Minni, Aman Hassan Yemer and Ramy Zamzam.
Officials in both countries have said they expect the men to eventually be deported back to the United States, though charging them in Pakistan could delay that process.
The U.S. Embassy has declined to comment on the potential charges the men face in Pakistan.