Pak court indicts five Americans with terrorism

SARGODHA: A Pakistani court on Wednesday charged five Americans with funnelling money to outlaws and plotting a terror attack that could see them jailed for life if found guilty, lawyers said.

The five men aged 19 to 25 denied the seven charges read out by Judge Anwar Nazeer in an anti-terrorism court convened under tight security at the district jail of the eastern city of Sargodha, where they were arrested in December.

"Charges have been laid against all the accused. All these charges are terrorism-related. The offences are punishable by life imprisonment," defence lawyer Shahid Kamal told reporters.

The court named the five as Umar Farooq, Waqar Hussain, Rami Zamzam, Ahmad Abdullah Mini and Amman Hassan Yammer, defence lawyer Hasan Dastagir told AFP.

"A total of seven charges have been laid against them. They include funding a banned or proscribed organisation and helping out a banned organisation.

"One of the charges is conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack within Pakistan or an allied country," he added.

Prosecutors and police had long called for the five men to be charged with plotting militant attacks in Pakistan and attempting to commit an act of terror against countries that are at peace with Pakistan.

Although those countries have not been named, Pakistani officials have said the young men planned to travel to neighbouring Afghanistan and join up with Taliban-led militants fighting US and NATO troops.

The men professed their innocence Wednesday, lawyers told reporters who were banned from attending the closed-doors hearing.

"The judge asked if they accept the charges. All the accused unanimously rejected them. They said 'we totally deny the charges'," Dastagir said.

Nazeer adjourned the next hearing until March 31, when the prosecutor is scheduled to provide evidence against the accused.

Wednesday's proceedings were held under tight security and reporters were not allowed near the prison where the accused have been held and where special guards lined the perimeter to prevent intrusions.

A US consular staff member attended the hearing on Wednesday, the US embassy in Islamabad confirmed, but made no further comment.

All five suspects were born in the United States, but Farooq and Hussain's family originate from Pakistan, Zam Zam's from Egypt, Mini's from Eritrea and Yammer from Yemen, Dastagir said.

A Pakistani court has barred the Americans' deportation to the United States, where they lived before travelling to Pakistan last year.

The men have said they were tortured in custody but prison officials have denied the accusations.

The suspects have insisted that they wanted to travel to Afghanistan, where US-led troops are locked into an eight-year war, only for charity work.

Investigators have said that the men planned to travel from Sargodha to South Waziristan, a training ground for Islamist networks in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt that was subject to a major military operation last year.

Although the Pakistani government is a close US ally in the war on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the country is gripped by widespread anti-Americanism where many blame deteriorating security on the alliance.

Washington has put the government and military under major pressure to do more to eliminate Islamist networks that have carved out havens in the country's northwest and infiltrate Afghanistan to attack Western troops.

Last month, a US court convicted Pakistani woman scientist Aafia Siddiqui of trying to kill US servicemen in Afghanistan, which sparked protests across the country and saw President Asif Ali Zardari intervene calling for justice.