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 US 'militants' deny planning Pakistan attack

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PostSubject: US 'militants' deny planning Pakistan attack   Tue Jan 05, 2010 10:06 am

SARGODHA, Pakistan (AFP) - – Five Americans facing terror charges in Pakistan denied plotting attacks in the nuclear-armed nation, telling a courton Monday they wanted to help Muslims in war-torn Afghanistan, lawyers said.

The five young men were arrested in December on suspicion of trying to contact Al-Qaeda-linked groups and are facing charges for allegedly plotting attacks in Pakistan, which could see them jailed for life.

The men appeared briefly in the courtroom in Sargodha town in eastern Pakistan, handcuffed and casually dressed. Two unarmed police guards were present in the courtroom as elite police commandos guarded the premises.

Questioned by Judge Anwer Nazeer, the men denied links to Al-Qaeda but some said they were trying to travel to Afghanistan, where US, NATO and Afghan forces are fighting a worsening eight-year Taliban insurgency.

"They told the judge that they have neither committed any crime in Pakistan, nor had they any intention to do so. They were going to Afghanistan to help injured and homeless people," defence lawyer Amir Abdullah Rokri told AFP.

He said his clients also denied sending an email to an Al-Qaeda-linked figure named Saifullah.

Public prosecutor Nadeem Akram Cheema said the young men had insisted they were heading to Pakistan's neighbour with the best of intentions.

"One of the suspects said that they were going to Afghanistan to help the Muslims," Cheema said.

"When the judge addressed them and said 'so you admit that you were going to Afghanistan', another suspect said 'yes, we were going to Afghanistan to help Muslims'," Cheema said, without naming the suspects who spoke.

Cheema said police requested the five be remanded into custody, while Khalid Farooq -- the Pakistani father of one of the suspects -- be freed because he had tried to dissuade the young men from trying to join the insurgents.

Both requests were granted on Monday.

"The court released Khalid Farooq and sent the others on judicial remand," Rokri told AFP. "The next hearing will be on January 18."

Sargodha police chief Usman Anwar confirmed that Farooq had been freed from custody and sent home.

"We will try to complete and file the charges of the remaining suspects as soon as possible in the court," he said, adding that they hoped to have their report finished in time for the next hearing.

Farooq later told AFP he had been kept apart from the five US suspects, and hoped his son would be given a fair trial: "I see the light at the end of the tunnel... so far, the proceedings have been fair."

Police have said investigations into the men's activities are complete, with the court requested to file charges under the anti-terrorism act.

"It has now been established that the five men had contacts with militants, some of them foreigners, in South Waziristan, and they had come to Pakistan to carry out acts of terror," senior police official Tahir Gujjar said Saturday.

Pakistan has been fighting against the Taliban in South Waziristan, part of the northwest tribal belt on the Afghan border that US officials call Al-Qaeda's chief sanctuary and the most dangerous place on the planet.

The area is also known as a training ground and haven for militants plotting attacks against Western targets and the United States is pressuring Islamabad to do more to eliminate the extremist threat.

The suspects, who are all US citizens including two Pakistani-Americans, have also been questioned by the FBI.

There has been concern in the United States that extremists within Pakistan might try to take control of nuclear assets or attack atomic facilities, despite insistence from Western officials that the facilities are safe.

A Pakistani court last month ordered that the five suspects cannot be deported without its permission.

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