A special anti-terrorism court closed to observers and presided over by a single judge convicted five young American men today of planning to launch attacks in Pakistan.
The Americans -- all from Virginia and all Muslim -- were sentenced to 10-year jail terms in this rural county for criminal conspiracy to attack Pakistan and for providing funds to banned terrorist organizations. Their lawyers said they will appeal, and predicted a higher court will see the evidence as thin.
When the five Americans were arrested here in December, they were the highest profile example of what American officials said was a new, disturbing trend: U.S. citizens turning to Islamic extremism. Police in Sargodha accused the men -- all in their late teens or early 20s -- of wanting to attack Pakistan, U.S. bases in Afghanistan and the United States itself, using their American passports as assets. But they were acquitted of charges relating to Afghanistan and the United States.
U.S. officials also used the case to raise concerns about the apparent ease with which would-be terrorists could travel to Pakistan and join any one of a number of terrorist groups. Police accused the five of trying (and failing) to join Jaish-e-Muhammad -- implicated in the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl -- and Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of attacking Mumbai in November 2008. Both groups are banned in Pakistan, but senior police officials say they continue to openly recruit.
Prosecutors accused the men of deciding to launch attacks while still in their homes near Virginia and then reaching out to a militant named Saifullah or Qari Saifullah in Pakistan. They communicated, police and prosecutors say, via the drafts folder of a Yahoo e-mail account, arranging to join a terrorist group and receive terrorist training.
"We told the leadership of Jaish-e-Muhammad that we want to wage jihad and suicide bombing in the path of Allah Almighty," reads the sometimes clumsy confession written by police and obtained by ABC News. "We all have a crystal clear vision and firm determination that we would wage jihad and embarrass [sic]" suicide missions.
The men received two prison terms, one for 10 years on the conspiracy charge and the other for five years on the funding charge. But they can serve them concurrently. They were also fined about $820.
Prosecutors praised the judge's ruling, but said the Americans should have received more jail time.
"We will appeal in the high court to enhance the sentence," Rana Bakhtiar told reporters in Sargodha.
The Americans' defense attorneys heavily criticized the evidence the police gathered and the prosecution presented, claiming the written confession was full of holes and at least partially "fabricated," in the words of Hasan Dastagir.
Dastagir accused the police of "planting" books advocating terrorism on the men and "manufacturing" at least one of the e-mails that police say the Americans wrote to Saifullah. He also said he was shocked that the 50-page ruling contained none of the evidence he presented during the six-month-long trial.
"There's not a single word in the judgment… given or produced by the defense side. The judge should have at least considered it, even if he disregarded it," Dastagir told ABC News.
Two of the Americans are of Pakistani descent: Umar Farooq and Waqar Hussain Khan; one is of Egyptian descent: Rami Zamzam; and two are of Ethopian descent: Ahmed Minni, Aman Hassan Yamer.