SARGODHA, Pakistan — Five young American Muslims detained in Pakistan wanted to join militants in the country's Taliban-ruled tribal region, battle U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan and die as martyrs, police officials said Thursday.
The men initially tried to contact jihadist groups in Pakistan via YouTube and other Web sites, then traveled to Pakistan to attempt personal meetings, said the police chief in this eastern Pakistani city, Usman Anwar.
One of their fathers was also detained when police raided two locations this week in Sargodha, a city on the main road to the Afghan border region that is home to a major air force base and is known as a hotbed of militant activity.
The young men, aged 19 to 25, were reported missing from the Washington, D.C., area more than a week ago after their families found a farewell video showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.
The detentions are another worrisome sign that Americans may be susceptible to recruitment to terrorist networks from within the United States. It comes on the heels of charges against a Chicago man of Pakistani origin who is accused of plotting the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
Yet in contrast to the Chicago case, police say the five captured in Pakistan failed to catch on with any terror network, and succeeded only in raising suspicions among locals, who reported them to Pakistani police.
FBI agents and U.S. Embassy security officials have met with the men, U.S. officials said, but it was not clear whether they would be charged and tried in Pakistan or deported.
Anwar said the men arrived in the southern city of Karachi earlier this month.
They were identified as Pakistani Americans Umer Farooq and Waqar Hussain; Ethiopian Americans Aman Yamar and Ahmed Abdullah Mimi; and Ramy Zamzam, an Egyptian American who is a dental student at Howard University, according to a Pakistan government official in Washington. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
Regional police chief Javed Islam said the five wanted to join militants in Pakistan's tribal area before crossing into Afghanistan to take part in jihad, or holy war. He said they met representatives from the al-Qaida-linked Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group in the southeastern city of Hyderabad and from a related group, Jamat-ud-Dawa, in Lahore.
"They were asking to be recruited, trained and sent on jihad," Islam said.
He said those groups turned them down because they did not have any "references" from militants trusted by them. None spoke fluent Urdu, including those of Pakistani origin, Anwar said.
Anwar said their final destination in Pakistan was to have been Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, a lawless region on the border with Afghanistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban enjoy free rein.
"During interrogation, these guys, especially the Egyptian, mentioned repeatedly that we are here to become martyrs," Anwar said. "They said they would lay down their lives in the name of Islam against the American infidels and other allied forces."
Farooq's father, Khalid Farooq, also was detained. Anwar said the elder Farooq owns a computer business in Virginia and shuttles between the U.S. and Pakistan. Authorities said he owns one of the homes raided by police and investigators are still trying to establish what role – if any – he played in the men's alleged activities.
The other location was a home owned by an uncle of one of the suspects who has ties to militant groups, according to S.M. Imran Gardezi, the press minister at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.
Authorities seized a laptop, jihadi literature and digital maps of Pakistani cities from the men, Anwar said.
The men communicated among themselves by writing draft e-mail messages in the same account, the police chief said. The practice – often used by militant groups – allowed them to contact each other without actually sending a message and risking it be intercepted.
"They are directly connected to al-Qaida. They had plans for attacks inside and outside Sargodha," said Anwar. He did not say what evidence he had to support the claim.
The men applied for travel visas in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, writing on their applications that they planned to attend a friend's wedding and go sightseeing, a Pakistani official said. They were taken into custody Monday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said FBI and U.S. Embassy security officers have already visited the Americans and U.S. consular officials were scheduled to meet with them on Friday.
"We're in an information-gathering phase," Crowley said, adding that one question they sought to answer was why the five young men were in Pakistan. "We should just not draw any conclusions at this point," he said.
A lawyer for the young men's families, Nina Ginsberg, said they were making preparations to voluntarily return to the United States when they were detained. "The families had gotten indications that they had decided to come back," she said.
She said she has seen the farewell video, and while it was troublesome, "I don't believe it constitutes a crime. I don't think it goes over the edge of asking or directing people to commit acts of violence."
Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jamat-ud-Dawa – a front group for Lashkar Taiba – are two related militant groups active in Punjab province. They are mostly made up of Pakistanis and concentrate on attacking targets in India, but in recent years they or splinter groups have targeted Western interests in Pakistan and attracted a smattering of foreign recruits.
Five alleged members of Lashkar Taiba are currently on trial in Pakistan accused in last year's terror attacks in Mumbai, India.
The two-story house owned by the elder Farooq was locked and empty Thursday, with police nowhere to be seen.
A neighbor said he was surprised it was allegedly being used by militants and that the owner was a good man.
"I would have never thought this family could be involved in any jihadi activity," said Mohammad Shakil.
Associated Press Writers Zarar Khan and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad; Devlin Barrett, Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor, Matt Apuzzo, Pamela Hess, and Eileen Sullivan in Washington; and Nafeesa Syeed in Alexandria, Va., contributed to this report.