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Youths in terror trial allege mistreatment in Pakistan

From Dugald McConnell, CNN
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Mom says son tortured by Pakistanis
  • Pakistani authorities deny renewed claim terror suspects tortured into confessing
  • Five Americans are charged with plotting terrorist attacks against Pakistan
  • Pakistani officials assert the five tried to meet up with militant extremists in Pakistan

(CNN) -- Pakistani authorities are denying a renewed claim that five Americans being held on terrorism charges were tortured into confessing.

Amal Khalifa, the mother of one of the suspects, said her son Ramy Zamzam detailed his claims during her recent visit to him in a Pakistani prison and in a letter.

She said the five youths went to Pakistan for a wedding without telling their parents and were watching television when thirty armed men put guns in their faces and took them away, ultimately holding them 36 hours without food or water.

"They tortured them, they beat them up," Khalifa said. "As soon as they fell asleep, somebody hit them so they don't fall asleep."

Video: Americans on trial in Pakistan
  • Pakistan
  • Terrorism

Her son told her, "the chief of police over there asked him to say they are [planning] terrorism," she said. "He said, some of the boys, they can't take the pressure, and they confess."

Nadeem Kiani, a spokesman for the Pakistani embassy in Washington, vigorously denied the allegation. The youths have had regular consular access from American officials, he said, and there have been no formal complaints of mistreatment lodged by them.

In January, the deputy superintendent of the district jail in Pakistan, Aftab Hanif, told CNN that nobody had touched the suspects, and their allegations of mistreatment were false.

A U.S. embassy spokesman in Islamabad, Rick Snelsire, confirmed that Pakistani officials have granted regular consular access to the Americans but could not comment further on the subject, citing privacy grounds. State Department spokesman Marc Toner said last month, "We take seriously all reports of abuse and torture. We did in fact raise those reports with officials from the government of Pakistan" but could not comment further.

Zamzam and four other college-aged Americans are being tried on charges including criminal conspiracy to commit terrorism and waging war against Pakistan and its allies. Pakistani officials have asserted that the five tried to meet up with militant extremists in Pakistan, and "they were of the opinion that a jihad must be waged against the infidels for the atrocities committed by them against Muslims around the world."

Their trial is scheduled to resume next week. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison. But Khalifa said she hoped her son would be released instead.

"They're going to [be] set free over there, because the case over there is very weak," she said.

Khalifa, who immigrated to America from Egypt with her husband, was interviewed at the offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- the same organization that several of the parents contacted in December when they learned their sons were missing. The organization helped them contact the FBI, after seeing a video that was left behind by the youths.

"I was disturbed by the content of it," executive director Nihad Awad said of the video at the time. "One person appeared in that video, and they made references to the ongoing conflict in the world, and that young Muslims have to do something."

But Khalifa said she had seen the video as well and offered a different interpretation.

"Everybody has to love each other" is how she understood the video's message. "Not only between Muslim and Christian, or Jewish," but between all human beings, she said.

Ramy Zamzam never spoke of jihad or extremism, she said, and the mosque youth group he joined was not a place where the young men were radicalized, but rather a place where they would order pizza, watch movies and play basketball in the parking lot.

She described her son as a promising dentistry student at Howard University who was always joking and laughing.

"If he's home, and I'm in the kitchen, no way to leave me alone," she said. "He always come when I'm washing the dishes, or working in the kitchen, and pull my hair, or splash cold water, or put a piece of ice in my back."

But after his time in custody, she said, even if he is freed, "I believe it's going to leave a big scar in his life."

CNN's Brian Todd contributed to this report.