5 Vir­gini­ans sus­pected of trav­el­ing to Pak­istan for ter­ror acts

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY SARAH ABRUZZESE AND SARA A. CARTER

Five North­ern Vir­ginia res­i­dents have been ar­rested in Pak­istan af­ter fam­ily mem­bers and the Mus­lim com­mu­nity con­tacted the FBI with sus­pi­cions that the men had gone over­seas to per­form acts of ter­ror­ism.

Pak­istan Em­bassy spokesman Nadeem Kiani con­firmed the Dec. 7 ar­rest of “five per­sons in Pak­istan,” in Sar­godha in Pun­jab prov­ince, though there were dis­crep­an­cies be­tween U.S. and Pak­istani of­fi­cials about the men’s names.

“All five of the men had U.S. pass­ports and they were taken into cus­tody by Pak­istani po­lice on Dec. 7,” Mr. Kiani told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “The po­lice had in­for­ma­tion that there were for­eign­ers in the house and be­came sus­pi­cious of their ac­tiv­ity in the area.”

The five men are thought to be Ahmed Ab­dul­lah Waqar, Has­san Khan, Eman Has­san, Yasir Zamzam and Ramy Zamzam, a U.S. mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, con­firmed to The Times.

He cau­tioned, though, that ji­had groups use aliases and vari­a­tions on the same name.

Mr. Kiani gave a dif­fer­ent ac- count, giv­ing one name that U.S. of­fi­cials and Pak­istani me­dia did not. The em­bassy spokesman said Omar Faroq, a Pak­istani Amer­i­can, was taken into cus­tody “along with four other men at the home of one of Faroq’s rel­a­tives.”

“He was his un­cle,” Mr. Kiani said.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions (CAIR), said the five men raised con­cerns among their fam­i­lies when they left the coun­try unan­nounced in Novem­ber. Af­ter leav­ing, some of the men made calls back to the United States and the over­seas ring raised ad­di­tional sus­pi­cions.

The five all live in North­ern Vir­ginia and are ac­quain­tances, but Mr. Hooper would not give ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about the men to pro­tect their fam­i­lies or com­pro­mise the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The Mus­lim com­mu­nity took the lead in bring­ing the case to law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties,” Mr. Hooper said.

Ni­had Awad, CAIR’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said at a Wash­ing­ton news con­fer­ence that he had seen an 11-minute video left be­hind by one of the men, all re­port­edly 25 or younger. He said that in the video, the man “made ref­er­ences to the on­go­ing con­flict in the world and that young Mus­lims have to do some­thing.”

“The video’s about 11 min­utes and it’s like a farewell. And they did not spec­ify what they would be do­ing. But just hear­ing and see­ing videos sim­i­lar on the In­ter­net, it just made me un­com­fort­able,” Mr. Awad said.

Jo­hari Ab­dul-Ma­lik, a lo­cal imam who is pres­i­dent of the Mus­lim So­ci­ety of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., said fam­ily mem­bers saw noth­ing sus­pi­cious in their be­hav­ior.

“From all of our in­ter­views, there was no sign they were out­wardly rad­i­cal­ized,” Mr. Ab­dul­Ma­lik said.

Mr. Kiani said Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the sit­u­a­tion and will work closely with their U.S. coun­ter­parts “if there is a con­nec­tion to cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­ing con­ducted in the U.S.”

A Ye­meni-Amer­i­can and an Egyp­tian-Amer­i­can were among the five ar­rested, Mr. Kiani added.

The U.S. mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial said Pak­istan told the U.S. of the ar­rests on Dec. 9. He added that get­ting five Amer­i­can re­cruits would be a ma­jor coup for al Qaeda or any other Is­lamist ji­had group.

“[CIA Di­rec­tor] Michael V. Hay­den, [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Adm. Mike] Mullen and oth­ers have long said that al Qaeda was re­cruit­ing and train­ing Western­ers and peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the West,” the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial said. “U.S. pass­ports are es­pe­cially prized.”

The enor­mous value of Amer­i­cans to al Qaeda means that the group takes ex­tra care with U.S. re­cruits. How­ever, the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial ex­plained, this also makes it dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine at what stage of train­ing the group may have been.

Mr. Hooper of CAIR said that while his group would not take credit for the ar­rests, “We ini­ti­ated con­tact with the FBI to make them aware of this de­vel­op­ing sit­u­a­tion. What course it took from there was up to the FBI and the in­ves­ti­ga­tors on the ground.”

Dean Boyd, a Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman, con­firmed U.S. knowl­edge of the case but gave no de­tails.

“The FBI is work­ing with fam­i­lies and lo­cal law en­force­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the miss­ing stu­dents and is aware of the in­di­vid­u­als ar­rested in Pak­istan. We are work­ing with Pak­istan au­thor­i­ties to de­ter­mine their iden­ti­ties and the na­ture of their busi­ness there, if in­deed th­ese are the stu­dents who had gone miss­ing. Be­cause this is an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we will not be able to pro­vide fur­ther de­tails at this time,” he said.

One of the men ar­rested was Ramy Zamzam, a den­tal stu­dent at­tend­ing Howard Uni­ver­sity. The school would con­firm only, in a press release, that he was en­rolled dur­ing the fall 2009 se­mes­ter.

Sami­rah Ali, pres­i­dent of Howard Uni­ver­sity’s Mus­lim Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion, told the As­so­ci­ated Press that the FBI con­tacted her two weeks ago about Mr. Zamzam and said he had been miss­ing for a week. At­tempts to reach Ms. Ali were not suc­cess­ful.

She told the AP that she has known Mr. Zamzam for three years and was sur­prised to learn he is sus­pected of in­volve­ment with Is­lamist rad­i­cal­ism.

“He’s a very nice guy, very cor­dial, very friendly,” Ms. Ali said. “It re­ally caught me off guard.”

Ben Conery and Vic­tor Mor­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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Ramy Zamzam, a den­tal stu­dent at­tend­ing Howard Uni­ver­sity, was ar­rested in Pak­istan along with four other Nor th­ern Vir­ginia res­i­dents whom au­thor­i­ties sus­pect of trav­el­ing to per form acts of ter­ror­ism.

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