SARGODHA, Pakistan (AP) — Five American men were convicted Thursday on terror charges by a Pakistani court and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case that heightened concerns about Westerners traveling to Pakistan to contact al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups.
The trial of the young Muslim men from the Washington, D.C., area was sensitive for the U.S., which has a duty to insure justice for its citizens but also has pushed Pakistan to crack down on militancy.
The men were arrested in Pakistan in December after their families reported them missing. Prosecutors said e-mail records and witness statements proved they were plotting terror attacks in Pakistan and conspired to wage war against nations allied with it, a reference to Afghanistan, where the men were alleged to have been traveling.
The judge handed down two prison terms for each man, one for 10 years and the other for five. A copy of the decision seen by The Associated Press said the terms were to be served concurrently.
The men said nothing when the verdict was read out, Deputy Prosecutor Rana Bakhtiar said.
The trial moved with unusual speed in a country where cases often drag out for years and where terror convictions are rare and often overturned on appeal. The trial was closed to journalists and observers and was heard by a single judge in a special anti-terrorism court.
The men have been identified as Ramy Zamzam of Egyptian descent, Waqar Khan and Umar Farooq of Pakistani descent, and Aman Hassan Yemer and Ahmed Minni of Ethiopian descent. One allegedly left behind a farewell video in the United States showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.
An attorney for the men said they would appeal the ruling to the Lahore High Court.
"It was not a fit case for conviction," defense lawyer Hassan Dastghir said. "I am confident that we will win the case at appeals level."
American officials have said little in public about the trial, and on Thursday, embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire said only that the U.S. respects the decision of the Pakistani courts.
Washington is trying to counter anti-American sentiment in Pakistan's government, security forces and media, as it pushes Islamabad to flush out the Taliban, al-Qaida and other militant networks who use its territory.