ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani court formally charged Wednesday five young Americans of plotting terrorism in the country, their lawyer said, in a case that has raised alarm over the danger posed by militants using the Internet.
The students, in their 20s and from the U.S. state of Virginia, were detained in December in the town of Sargodha, 190 km (120 miles) southeast of Islamabad, and accused of contacting militants over the Internet and plotting attacks.
A defense lawyer for the men, Hassan Dastagir, said the charges brought against his clients, included fund raising for terrorist acts.
“The court brought charges of terrorism against my clients and fixed March 31 for the next hearing in which the prosecution would produce evidence and witnesses,” he told Reuters by telephone from Sargodha.
He said the men pleaded not guilty and described the charges as “lies.”
The five men, who had told the court they only wanted to provide fellow Muslims in Afghanistan with medical and financial help, face life imprisonment if convicted, Dastagir said.
Police said the men — two of them of Pakistani origin, one of Egyptian, one of Yemeni and one of Eritrean origin — wanted to go to Afghanistan to join the Taliban to fight Afghan and Western forces.
Police have said emails showed they contacted Pakistani militants who had planned to use them for attacks in Pakistan, a front-line state in the U.S.-led war against militancy.
The five have accused the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Pakistani police of torturing and trying to frame them. Pakistani authorities deny the accusations.
Pakistan is fighting al Qaeda-linked militants and is under pressure from Washington to help stabilize Afghanistan by cracking down on militants’ cross-border attacks on U.S.-led troops.
Editing by Michael Georgy and Sanjeev Miglani