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American 'jihadis' in Pakistan leaves US puzzled

December 11, 2009 09:27 IST

The US is investigating the circumstances into how and why five of its young citizens from Virginia landed up in Pakistan, as these men are accused of being in touch with radicals for taking part in 'jihad'.

Arrested in Pakistan in its Punjab province on Wednesday, Pakistani officials said these five American-Muslims had contacted radical jihadist organisations in Pakistan.

"They are proudly saying, 'We are here for jihad'," Usman Anwar the Pakistani police chief whose officers interrogated the men, was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.

However, the Obama Administration refrained from arriving any conclusion till the time it completes its own investigation in this regard.

Asked about possible jihadist links as news reports from Pakistan indicated, assistant secretary of state for public affairs P J Crowley said, "I think it's important to emphasise at this point we are in an information-gathering phase, but we have met with them. We are working closely with Pakistani authorities on this case."

The state department team with officials from both the embassy in Islamabad and the consulate in Lahore met with the five American citizens that have – that are in custody in Pakistan and I would expect in the next 24 hours we'd have further visits with these individuals, and including a visit from consular officials who I expect will be on their way to see them tomorrow, Crowley added.

Crowley said these five missing men were apprehended by Pakistani authorities. "Today we've had access to them, an opportunity to talk to them about the circumstances of their travel to Pakistan. I think this is indicative of the cooperation that we have received with Pakistani authorities. We will continue to investigate this together, share information.

Where this leads, we should just not draw any conclusions at this point," he said.

On the possible jihadist links as news reports from Pakistan indicated, Crowley said: "I know there is a lot of conjecture being bandied about as to what they were about, who they were associated with, what the implications are. I would just kind of dampen that kind of conjecture at this point. Reiterating that they are in the information-gathering phase of this, he said:

"We have drawn no conclusions. All we really know is that these individuals were in the United States until recently, they made their way to Pakistan.

And beyond that, we are trying to talk to them, find out what they were up to, what the implications are. And we should let the investigation go forward before we draw any conclusions.

Meanwhile the justice department said the five missing individuals from the Washington, DC area have been located and are in the custody of Pakistani police.

"The five men were detained by Pakistani authorities on December 9, 2009, after they came to the attention of police," it said in a statement.

The men were detained without incident and four were found to have US passports.

An FBI Special Agent and two other US government officials from the embassy have spoken with some of the men.

Though positive identification is still pending, the FBI believes they are the missing individuals," the justice department said.

"The FBI was attempting to locate these individuals after learning of their disappearance. Discussions concerning their possible return to the United States are still underway," the statement said.

The state department official said as of now the administration has reached no conclusions as to the circumstances surrounding their travel from the United States to Pakistan.

"They now are safely in the custody of Pakistani officials, and we are going to find out how they made their way from Washington, DC, to Pakistan, why there were there, what their intentions were.

At this point, we've reached no judgments beyond – we obviously now are beginning to talk to them, to gather information," Crowley said.