Pak questions terror suspects; Obama declines comment

Pakistani intelligence officials were on Thursday questioning six men, at least three of them US citizens, arrested over alleged links to al Qaeda, security officials said.

Updated: Dec 10, 2009, 16:24 PM IST

Washington: Pakistani intelligence officials were on Thursday questioning six men, at least three of them US citizens, arrested over alleged links to al Qaeda, security officials said.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama is declining to comment on the arrests of five Americans in Pakistan over possible terrorism links, but taking the opportunity to praise the contributions of the US Muslim community.

Appearing before reporters on Thursday in Oslo after meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Obama said the "twisted ideologies" of terrorists can reach young people in the United States and affect them.

But he called it "remarkable" how the US, since the 2001 terrorist attacks, has reaffirmed the "extraordinary contributions" of the Muslim-American community. He also said the community`s fierce American patriotism and integration has helped the US avoid some of the problems "we have seen in other countries”.

The men were detained on Wednesday in Sargodha, south of Islamabad, at the home of a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of a number of militant groups active in Pakistan, which is battling a fierce Islamist insurgency.

"Five foreigners -- two of them Pakistani-Americans, one Egyptian, one Ethiopian and one Eritrean -- have been arrested," Sargodha district police chief Usman Anwar said.

"We have also arrested Khalid Chaudhry, father of the two Pakistani-American brothers aged 22 and 25 years, who is also an American national and local leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, for harbouring these five people."

Officials had previously said a Yemeni and a Swede were among those arrested.

The FBI said it was probing the case of five terror suspects arrested in Pakistan, one of whom made an extremist-style "farewell" video before leaving his home in the United States.

The men were arrested on suspicion of plotting a militant attack, Anwar said on Wednesday.

Muslim leaders in Washington said the men had been living in northern Virginia, close to the US capital, with their families until they disappeared last month.

An official at the Pakistani embassy in Washington said they are "all of US origin”, but Federal Bureau of Investigations officials gave no confirmation of their nationalities.

Officials from Washington, DC-based the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) told reporters that the men`s families contacted the organisation after they went missing.

Nihad Awad, CAIR`s executive director, did not give the men`s names, ages or nationalities, but said he met on December 1 with their relatives.

Awad said the families brought along a video showing one of the five men delivering a "final statement," and which included war images and Koranic verses.

"It`s like a farewell," he said of the 11-minute, English-language video that one of the families reportedly found in their home.

After viewing the video, CAIR contacted the FBI and turned over the footage and information about the missing men.

"The circumstances were so suspicious that we felt we had to bring it to the attention of the FBI," said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR`s national communications director.

That tip appears to be the first time authorities had been alerted to the men`s activities, he added.

The FBI said it was working with families and local law enforcement to investigate the missing students.

"We are working with Pakistan authorities to determine their identities and the nature of their business there, if indeed these are the students who had gone missing," said Lindsey Godwin, an FBI spokeswoman.

Godwin said she could give no further details because "this is an ongoing investigation”.

The official at the Pakistani embassy said that the men entered the country through the southern city of Karachi on November 30 and went within days to the central province of Punjab.

They first went to the Punjabi capital, Lahore, before heading to Sargodha.

"We are still investigating the exact details," the official said on condition of anonymity.

US embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire said in Islamabad that he was aware of reports of the arrests, but had not received any information from Pakistani officials.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said he was unable to provide more details on any American connection in the arrests.

Bureau Report