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Pakistan arrests 5 men reported missing in United States

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Mother of terror suspect speaks
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: One source identified the missing Howard student as Ramy Zamzam
  • One of 5 left video mentioning "the ongoing conflict in the world," viewer says
  • Five are from Virginia and their families had contacted the FBI soon after they went missing
  • State Department does not have confirmation that individuals are Americans

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Five people arrested in Pakistan had been reported missing in the United States, and police are confident they were planning terrorist acts, a Pakistani police official told CNN.

It is too soon to link the men with any terrorist organizations, said Tahir Gujjrar, deputy superintendent of police in Sargodha, Pakistan, but preliminary investigations suggest they had sought to link up with the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jamaat ud Dawa militant organizations. Neither group showed interest, however, Gujjrar said.

The five were from Virginia and their families had contacted the FBI soon after they went missing, he said. They include two Pakistani-Americans, two Yemeni-Americans and an Egyptian-American.

The arrests came after a raid on a home in Sargodha, about 120 miles south of Islamabad, Gujjrar said.

No U.S. officials have confirmed Gujjrar's information, and there was no evidence charges had been filed. The FBI had said earlier that it was trying to determine whether a link existed between the five missing men and the arrests in Pakistan.

A U.S. law enforcement official not authorized to speak for attribution said the five missing men were all American citizens. Asked if they are the same men arrested in Pakistan, the official said, "We think it is, but we don't have it firm ... The truthful answer is, we don't know."

The State Department said it does not have confirmation of the arrested individuals' identities or whether they are Americans. The U.S. embassy in Islamabad is seeking further information.

Video: Americans arrested in Pakistan

If the individuals are Americans, the United States will be seeking consular access, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

"If they are American citizens, we are going to be very interested in the charges they have been detained on and the circumstances in which they are being held," he said. "That is something we would do anywhere and that is why the embassy is seeking further information."

Under the Geneva Conventions, Pakistan is required to notify the United States about any Americans arrested, Kelly said.

The U.S. law enforcement official said none of the five missing men had shown up on law enforcement's radar before they were reported missing. "These guys never surfaced with us before."

Authorities believe their intent was to wage jihad overseas rather than with terrorist acts in the United States, the official said, but "there is still a lot of uncertainty about what they were up to."

A Pakistani official said the men arrived in Karachi on November 30 and went on to Lahore and then Sargodha, where they were arrested Wednesday, the official said. The arrests came at the behest of local police. Preliminary investigations are ongoing, the official said.

If they are American citizens, we are going to be very interested in the charges they have been detained on.
--Ian Kelly, State Department spokesman
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The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement Wednesday it was assisting in the investigation of "five Muslim young men from Virginia who left the country recently under mysterious circumstances."

The parents of the missing youths and local Muslim leaders approached the council about the disappearances and the organization "immediately informed the FBI," the council said.

Council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said one of the missing youths was a student at Howard University, and all five knew each other.

One of the youths left a video behind, Nihad Awad, the council's executive director, told reporters. "I was disturbed by the content of it," he said.

One person appeared in it, and made references to "the ongoing conflict in the world, and that young Muslims have to do something," Awad said. He said the video "juxtaposed certain verses of the Quran," and he suggested there was a misunderstanding of those verses and their potential misuse.

The video is about 11 minutes long, he said, and is "like a farewell." Awad said it did not specify what the youths would be doing, but he has seen similar videos on the Internet, and "it just made me uncomfortable."

One source identified the missing Howard student as Ramy Zamzam, who was studying dentistry at the Washington college. No further details were immediately available, and it was not immediately known whether he was among those arrested in Pakistan.

The council and the Muslim community realize there is a problem, although it is not widespread, Awad said, and is "going to launch a major campaign of education to refute the misuse of verses in the Quran, or the misuse of certain grievances in the Muslim world. We believe that we can do a lot to reinstate confidence in young American Muslims, that they have to be fully engaged, as the majority of them are engaged in civic life and in the political process."

He and other Muslim officials cautioned against a rush to judgment against the youths, and praised their families and members of the Muslim community for approaching law enforcement and assisting in the investigation.

At the end of November, he said, the youths told their parents they were attending a local conference, but their parents became suspicious when calling their cell phones because they got what sounded like an overseas ring tone. The families then went to the council.

"The main concern was to get them back and figure out what was going on and protect any national security and everybody's rights," Hooper said. He said he understood the five left the country in a couple of groups at the end of November.

Along with the families and Muslim community leaders, the council said it was working to assist investigators.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations in the Washington area, said that while the five were active in their mosques, "From all of our interviews, there's been no sign that they were in any way outwardly radicalized ... there haven't been any reports that there was anything outwardly suspicious in their behavior."

The FBI is aware of the arrests, and is also investigating a report of five people reported missing from the Washington area, said Katherine Schweit, spokeswoman for the agency's Washington field office.

"We are working with Pakistan authorities to determine their identities and the nature of their business there" -- if the people arrested are the people who are missing, she said. She declined to elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation.

U.S. authorities have been wary of Islamic militants recruiting young Muslims from the United States to fight overseas.

Prosecutors in Minnesota recently arrested eight Somali-American men on charges related to what they said were efforts to recruit youths from the Minneapolis area to fight for al-Shabaab, a Somali guerrilla movement battling the African country's U.N.-backed transitional government. At least two young men from Minnesota have been killed in Somalia, including one who blew himself up in what is believed to have been the first suicide bombing carried out by a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The matter has "always been a concern," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. "We have been well aware of the threats that we continue to face along with friends and allies around the world ... we know that we have to work more closely with both Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to root out the infrastructure of terrorism that continues to recruit and train people."

CNN's Jeanne Meserve and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

 
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