- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

Area Muslim leaders on Friday said the five American men arrested in Pakistan for purportedly attempting to join al Qaeda were lured into embracing the terrorist ideology via the Internet. The leaders said they now will wage a cyber counterattack. wire

“This is a wake-up call involving our youths - Muslims and Catholics,” Imam Mahdi Bray said outside the Islamic Circle of North America’s mosque in Alexandria, where the men worshipped and participated in youth-group activities.

“They see great injustices, and their emotions and passions are stirred as they should be. … But we are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our youth through slick, seductive and destructive propaganda on the Internet. We will respond in kind on the Internet. Silence in cyberspace is not an option,” Mr. Bray said.

The men - all U.S. citizens - have been identified as Eman Yasir, Waqar Hasan, Umer Farooq, Ahmed Mimi and Ramy Zamzam, a dental student at Howard University and the group’s purported ringleader.

Pakistani officials said the men asked an al Qaeda-linked group for training but were rejected because the men lacked credentials from trusted militants.

The men reportedly tried first to contact jihadist groups in August via e-mails, then Facebook and YouTube. The men, who are between the ages of 19 and 25, then went to Pakistan to set up meetings.

The men disappeared last month from the Washington, D.C., area. One left behind a militaristic video that prompted family members to contact the FBI.

Pakistanis became suspicious of the young men and alerted police, who arrested them Tuesday at a residence belonging to an uncle of one of the men.

On Friday, people with knowledge of the case told the Associated Press that FBI agents questioned some of the young men in Pakistan as they gathered evidence that could lead to a conspiracy charge against the men.

Two people familiar with the case told the AP that FBI agents are gathering evidence to see whether there is enough to charge them with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. The two spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

Officials in both countries expect the five to be deported back home, but Pakistan may hold them long enough for U.S. prosecutors to prepare charges, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, at Mr. Zamzam’s dental school, Sultan Chaudhry, a speaker at Friday prayer services, stressed to worshippers that Islam is a religion of moderation, the AP reported.

In a brief sermon, Mr. Chaudhry, who serves as president of the dentistry school’s student council, said: “Muslims have to follow the middle path with no extremes on either side.”

Mr. Chaudhry also said Islam promotes “human dignity and honor” and has a set of universal values that are “positive and life-affirming.”

Mr. Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said the young men had been taught lawfulness and dignity, which he called the “core values of our faith,” at the mosque.

Mr. Bray and other religious leaders praised family members for taking swift action when their sons disappeared. “This could have been much worse,” he said.

Essam Tellawi, a spokesman for the mosque, said the mosque emphasizes the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, including “moderation, tolerance and peaceful interactions with neighbors.”

“Pray for the five families,” Mr. Tellawi said. “They are going through severe hardship. Pray [the men] get back safely and for a speedy resolution to this matter.”

He declined to discuss specifics about the case, saying the matter remains under investigation.

Mustafa Abu Maryam, the mosque’s youth coordinator, said he never suspected the young men for “bad behavior.” He called them “fun-loving” and said they have a “bright future.”

“I hope all of this is not what it seems to be,” he said.

Mr. Maryam said group activities are focused on community events and sports, which are meant to be “positive forces in the young men’s lives.”

“We never talked about politics or fighting - directly or indirectly,” Mr. Maryam said. “Our focus was community, community, community.”

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