WASHINGTON - Five Virginia men arrested in Pakistan in December were charged yesterday with six terrorism-related counts, two of which carry potential sentences of life in prison.
The men, ages 18 to 24, pleaded not guilty. Judge Anwar Nazir, of Pakistan's anti-terror court, said the evidentiary phase of the trial will begin March 31.
The judge accepted a recommendation from prosecutors to charge the men with using Pakistani soil for terror attacks against a friendly country and directing a person or an organization to commit terrorist activities, both of which carry potential life sentences.
They also will be charged with criminal conspiracy to commit terror attacks in Pakistan, attempting to use Pakistani soil for terror acts against a friendly country, using and possessing money or property for committing terrorism, and inciting other people to commit terror acts, all of which carry sentences of up to seven years.
The arrested men are Muslims from the Alexandria, Va., area who left the United States shortly after Thanksgiving without telling their parents, triggering an international missing persons case. They were arrested Dec. 8 at the family home of Khalid Farooq Chaudhry, the father of one of the men, Umar Chaudhry.
The arrests came at a time of growing concern in the United States over home-grown terrorism, and U.S. and Pakistani officials initially said the men probably would be deported back to northern Virginia, where they are under investigation by the FBI. But U.S. law enforcement officials now say that although their probe will continue, no charges in an American court are imminent - and investigators are waiting to see how events play out in Pakistan.
The men alleged in a note passed to reporters at an earlier hearing that they had been tortured while in Pakistani custody, with the complicity of American intelligence agents.