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Americans arrested in Pakistan had bright futures

Five Americans were arrested in Pakistan, accused of plotting a terrorism attack.
Five Americans were arrested in Pakistan, accused of plotting a terrorism attack.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Members of mosque describe five students as "wholesome" kids
  • Men arrested include Howard University dental student, George Mason accounting student
  • Pakistani officials: 5 arrested Wednesday, sixth man -- father of one of the 5 -- arrested later
  • Pakistani police say men were planning terrorist acts, official says

(CNN) -- Five Americans arrested this week in Pakistan were "wholesome," devout young men who participated in a youth program at a community mosque in suburban Virginia, representatives of the congregation said Friday.

"I have always known these kids as fun-loving, career-focused children that had a bright future for themselves," said Mustafa Abu Maryam, youth coordinator at the I.C.N.A. Center, an affiliate of the the Islamic Circle of North America, in Alexandria, Virginia. "As far as I know they were wholesome kids. Very goofy. You know, talked about girls. Very wholesome."

Portraits of Ahmed Abdullah Minni, Umar Farooq, Aman Hassan Yemer, Waqar Hussain Khan, and Ramy Zamzamand -- whom police say were transferred Saturday from the small town where they were seized to a more secure location in Lahore -- are slowly emerging. A sixth man -- the father of one of the five -- also was arrested, police said.

Pakistani authorities described the men as college students who "were of the opinion that a jihad must be waged against the infidels for the atrocities committed by them against Muslims around the world," a report states.

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Abu Maryam said members of the community are struggling to come to terms with news of their arrests in Pakistan amid suspicions they were plotting terror attacks and seeking a way to fight American troops abroad.

"I hope all of this is not true. I hope it is not what it seems," Abu Maryam said.

Representatives of the mosque -- a modest, one-story brick house on a residential street --expressed surprise over the arrests and described the community as a small, tight-knit, patriotic congregation.

"Our youth group has always focused on community service, community involvement and community oriented events. Our main focus is to be a positive force of good in our young men's lives, Abu Maryam said

Next to the mosque is a home surrounded by a tall white fence listed in the name of the mother of Umar Farooq, one of the men arrested.

The accounting student at George Mason University was born in 1985 in Sargodha, Pakistan, the city where the five Americans were arrested on Wednesday, according to a report released by Pakistani authorities.

His mother said she and her husband were already in Pakistan looking for a wife for their son when she received news that her son was in the country. She said she assumed that he was there to surprise her, but he was arrested before she could meet him.

She defended her son's innocence, insisting that he was in the country to visit her and to look for a wife.

Down the street from the mosque is a house listed in the name of A. Minni, a 20-year-old American born in Virginia who is believed to be Ahmed Abdullah Minni, the focus of the Pakistan report.

Minni regularly went online to watch attacks on the U.S. military in Afghanistan, leaving comments praising the actions, the report said. That caught the attention of militants and he was eventually contacted by a person named Saifullah, the report said.

Without commenting directly on the arrests, Abu Maryam defended the mosque's activities, saying discussion of jihad had no place in the congregation or the youth program.

"Our group discussions never talked about politics, never talked about fighting against anyone, indirectly or directly. On the contrary, we always promoted being compassionate toward others and good stewards for humanity."

A few blocks south of the mosque is the housing complex where Ramy Zamzam, 22, rose from humble beginnings to Howard University's College of Dentistry.

On campus, Zamzam was known as a cheerful, engaging student who enthusiastically took part in Muslim student activities. He was a member of several Facebook groups, including the Muslim Doctor Network, Tooth, FASTING MONDAYS AND THURSDAYS and Every Substitute Teacher On Earth Has Butchered My Last Name.

News of his arrest set Howard's campus abuzz with speculation over why the student would leave campus before finals were set to begin.

"If Ramy was not here to take his exams it means he's throwing away this academic year," former university chaplain Imam Johari Abdul-Malik said.

"If he does not comes back not only does he risk this year but perhaps he's thrown away his hopes of having the life, the American dream that his family sacrificed [for]."

CNN's Arwa Damon, Brian Todd, Dugald McConnell contributed to this report.

 
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