Terror Wannabes? Arrested Americans Rejected For Jihad Training

Families of U.S. Muslims arrested in Pakistan don't believe men are guilty

Dec. 10, 2009 — -- The five American terror suspects arrested in Pakistan , where they allegedly sought training for jihad, may have had more ambition than actual ability, sources tell ABC News. Pakistani police say the men attempted to join several terror groups but were turned down, partly because they were foreigners and had no local references.

"They wanted to join jihad but didn't know the meaning of jihad," the Sargodha deputy chief of police told ABC News. He said two Pakistani terror groups -- Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Muhammed, in Karachi and Lahore respectively -- rejected the men.

An attorney representing the families of the five men said the families don't believe the men are guilty of what the Pakistani authorities allege.

"The families have been cooperating very closely with the FBI since they discovered that the young men were missing," said Nina Ginsberg. "They are extremely worried about the safety of their sons and do not believe that they could have been involved in the kind of activities currently being reported by Pakistani officials. Their only concern is that their sons be safely returned to the United States and they continue to look to the FBI and the State Department for assistance in securing their release."

The youths arrested by Pakistani police for allegedly attempting to link up with militants have recently been interviewed by the State Department and FBI officials. The five men, all from the Washington, D.C. area, have been identified as Ramy Zamzam, Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmad Mini, and Aman Hassan Yemer. Pakistani authorities also arrested Farooq's father Khalid, but it was unclear Thursday if he was still being detained by police.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "At this point, we are in an information-gathering phase. But we have met with them. We are working closely with Pakistani authorities on this case. And I would expect in the next 24 hours we'd have further visits with these individuals, including a visit from consular officials."

Pakistani authorities were claiming in interviews that Khalid Farooq had links with Jaish-e-Muhammed but U.S. counterterrorism and FBI sources were not able to verify those claims.

The men had been the subjects of an FBI search initiated on December 1 after their families reported them missing and alerted authorities to a disturbing video they left behind. According to officials briefed on the 11 minute video, which is in the possession of the FBI, the video includes statements from one of the men believed to be Zamzam and shows U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan and shows U.S. casualties. Two sources confirm the video file was saved under the name "finalmessage" but officials say the video is not a martyrdom style video but appears to be an attempted at internet propaganda.

Nihad Awad with the Council on American Islamic Relations, a nonprofit Islamic advocacy group, said the video, which has not been made public, depicted scenes of war and radical calls for jihad. "I saw the video and I was disturbed by its content," Awad told reporters Wednesday. "One person appeared in that video and they made references to the ongoing conflict in the world and that young Muslims have to do something…We urged the families to contact the FBI."

American officials then notified Pakistani authorities because of concerns the young men may have been "radicalized" by Islamic militants.

U.S. counterterrorism and FBI officials have been trying to retrace the men's steps up to their departure on the weekend of November 28 when they left the United States from Dulles Airport for Karachi,Pakistan. American authorities are looking into the possibility that the men communicated with extremists via YouTube and they allegedly used a shared email address to update and save a draft email in order to avoid ever sending an email that could be traced by law enforcement.

There are no criminal charges filed against the men in the United States but Pakistani authorities said early on Thursday that the men were seeking to engage in jihad. In an interview with Pakistani television, Usman Anwar, Sargodha District Police Officer, said, "They were U.S. nationals. They had U.S. passports, valid passports, with valid Pakistani visas and two of them were Pakistani-born Americans. They were here for jihad, and they had left a videocassette back there for their parents that they have left for jihad and they won't be back, so we suppose that they were here for somebody's bad activities."

Today, Pakistani officials said all five suspects had valid U.S. passports with valid Pakistani visas. They said two of them were Pakistani-born Americans, among the suspects are Rami Zamam, a Howard University dental student and his Facebook friend Waqar Hassan Khan. Umar Farooq is currently enrolled at George Mason University in Virginia as business student.

In a brief interview on Wednesday Ramy Zazmzam's brother, who uses the nickname "Zam" said of his broher, "He's a good guy. He's a normal Joe. I think he has a 4.0 GPA...he's going to be a dentist in, I think, three years."

FBI officials are looking at the men's contacts with people at the Islamic Circle of North America, a mosque located in Alexandria Virginia. Some US officials drew comparisions with the recent case of Somali-American youths who traveled to Somalia to engage in fighting in ongoing civil war there. The men in that case were recruited and drawn into the glory of training and fighting jihad overseas only to come to the realization of extreme violence and unwanted fighting for survival.

U.S. intelligence officials have been increasingly concerned about homegrown terrorists -- individuals recruited by radical groups at home or abroad. Officials believe Americans of Middle Eastern descent are particularly attractive for these groups because they may draw less attention when they travel to Pakistan or Afghanistan for training.

In Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama commented on the arrests. "We have to be constantly mindful that some of these twisted ideologies are available over the internet and can affect our young people," said Obama.

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