Pakistani officials say five American men arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of trying to join Islamist militant groups are likely to be deported back to the U.S., unless they are found to have committed crimes in Pakistan. Meanwhile officials at a Virginia mosque held a news conference to say they are praying for the young men's speedy return.
At the Northern Virginia Islamic center where the five young men are said to have worshipped - outreach counselor Mustafa Maryam says allegations that they were plotting a holy war against Americans in Afghanistan came as a big surprise.
"Our group discussions never talked about politics, never talked about ongoing conflicts, never talked about fighting against anyone indirectly or directly," he said.
The five American Muslims are currently under police interrogation in eastern Pakistan, captured after their families reported them missing earlier this month.
One of them left behind an 11-minute farewell video explaining why Muslims must be defended.
Mosque spokesman Essam Tellawi said he prays for a speedy resolution and thanked the men's families for notifying the authorities. "I ask all of us to pray for them. They are going through severe hardship. It is a very painful experience to see this happening to them," he said.
Analysts say the incident demonstrates that homegrown terrorism is a rapidly growing threat. Jena McNeal, a Homeland Security expert at the Heritage Foundation, said "There have been 27 plots foiled against the United States since 9/11. I think this demonstrates that while some of these people were homegrown terrorists and some of them were not, we do have a threat that needs to be taken seriously."
Islamic leaders say they are paying attention. Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said, "We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of the emotions of our children through slick seductive and destructive propaganda on the Internet."
Although none of the men have been charged, people with knowledge of the case told Associated Press that agents are looking into whether there is evidence to charge the five Americans with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.