SARGODHA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Five American students were sentenced on Thursday to 10 years in jail for contacting militants online and plotting attacks by a court in Pakistan, fighting its own battle with Islamist radicals.
The students, in their 20s, were detained in December in Pakistan’s central city of Sargodha, 190 km (120 miles) southeast of Islamabad.
Deputy Prosecutor Rana Bakhtiar said the men were convicted on two counts each, with one carrying a 10-year sentence and the other carrying five years, to be served concurrently. They were also fined a total of 70,000 rupees ($820).
“Both these sentences will begin concurrently and in practice they will spend 10 years in jail. We will appeal in the high court to enhance the sentence,” Bakhtiar said.
Waqar Hussain Khan, Ahmed Minni, Ramy Zamzam, Aman Yemer and Umar Farooq were each charged with five counts of conspiracy, raising funds for terrorist acts, planning war against Pakistan, directing others to launch attacks and attempting to cross the Afghan border illegally.
Deputy prosecutor Bakhtiar said the court issued the 10-year sentences for conspiracy and five years for raising funds. The other charges were dropped.
The sentencing took place amid high security and journalists were not allowed inside the courtroom. Lawyers from both sides announced the sentences outside the jail.
The five men told the court earlier that they only wanted to provide fellow Muslim brothers in Afghanistan with medicine and financial help, and accused the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Pakistani police of torturing them and trying to frame them.
Hassan Katchela, a defense lawyer for the group, said the sentences would be appealed.
“We are a bit surprised because we believed it was not a case for conviction,” he said. “We are confident and we are going to file appeals against these conviction in the high court.”
After the sentencing, one of the men’s father expressed his dismay.
“It’s the greatest disappointment,” said Khalid Farooq, father of Umar Farooq. “The judge didn’t even bother to go through evidence against them. It was so weak.”
Two of the five are of Pakistani origin. The others are from Egyptian, Yemeni and Eritrean origins.
The students were arrested days after arriving in Pakistan last year.
Pakistani police said e-mails showed they contacted militants, who had planned to use them for attacks in Pakistan.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States respected the Pakistani government’s right to conduct such trials but declined comment on the verdict itself or on whether the men had received a fair trial.
“It’s premature to make any judgment on the trial,” he said, noting that both sides may appeal the outcome.
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in Islamabad and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Miral Fahmy