Detained American Muslims 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A Pakistani court charged five young Americans on Wednesday with planning terrorist attacks in the South Asian country and conspiring to wage war against nations allied with Pakistan, their defense lawyer said.
The men — all Muslims from the Washington, D.C., area — pleaded not guilty to a total of five charges, the most severe of which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, defense lawyer Hasan Dastagir told The Associated Press.
"My clients were in good shape and high spirits," Dastagir said.
The men, aged 19 to 25, were charged by an anti-terrorism court inside a prison in Sargodha, the city in Punjab province where they were arrested in December. They were reported missing by their families in November after one left behind a farewell video showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.
Their lawyer has said they were heading to Afghanistan and had no plans to stage attacks inside Pakistan.
The court also charged the men with planning attacks on Afghan and US territory, said Dastagir. The charges did not specify what was meant by US territory but could be a reference to American bases or diplomatic outposts in Afghanistan.
The men also were charged with contributing cash to banned organizations to be used for terrorism and with directing each other to commit terrorist acts.
"This last charge carries life in prison while the rest of the charges have lesser punishments," Dastagir said.
The trial will begin on March 31, and the prosecution is slated to present more than 20 witnesses, Dastagir said.
The defense plans to bring witnesses from the US and provide evidence of community service carried out by the men back home, Dastagir said.
Pakistani police have publicly made several accusations against the young men, claiming the suspects contacted Pakistani-based jihadi groups. They accused the five of using the social networking site Facebook and video-sharing site YouTube while they were in the US to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan.
During past court hearings, the men have claimed they were tortured by
Pakistani police and FBI agents. Pakistan and the US have denied those
The US has pressed an often-reluctant Pakistan to
crack down on militants in its territory, many of whom are believed
involved in attacks on American and NATO forces across the border in
Afghanistan. At the same time, several recent cases have highlighted
incidences of foreigners signing up to join the insurgents on both
sides of the border.
Two of the detained Americans are of Pakistani origin, while one is of Egyptian, one of Yemeni and one of Eritrean descent.