Pakistanis Still Questioning Northern Virginia Five

Top officials of Pakistan's government want to see five Northern Virginia men currently held by Pakistani police in a terrorism probe expelled from their country as quickly possible. But their possible deportation back to the U.S. has been delayed by the Pakistani judicial system. According to a Washington Post report, a Pakistani appeals court on Monday ruled that the five American citizens cannot be thrown out of Pakistan until the case is examined by a Pakistani judge. A court in the town of Sargodha, where the men were arrested and are still being held, then instructed police to report back on the case within 10 days.

U.S. counterterrorism officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing a continuing investigation, said that the Pakistani legal developments meant that the U.S. was unsure when the men might be sent back, although American officials appear confident that this will be the ultimate outcome. In the meantime, U.S. officials continue to investigate the men's travel to Pakistan and activities there in contemplation of the possible filing of U.S. criminal charges. American officials are already examining whether there is enough evidence to charge them with "material support for terrorism," a broad, vaguely defined offense that has been used to put away a variety of alleged terrorist suspects since 9/11. But at this point no U.S. charges have been issued against any of the men, and it is unclear whether such charges will or could be lodged before their return stateside. FBI agents on the ground in Pakistan have been allowed to interview at least some of the detainees.

As Declassified reported last week, a Pakistani police report alleges that the men got in contact via the YouTube comments section, and subsequently via e-mail, with a person who called himself "Saifullah" with whom they made a plan to travel via Pakistan and Afghanistan. But when the Americans arrived in Pakistan, the police report says, they were apparently turned away by two radical madrassas (religious schools) and ended up at the residence of one of the Americans' fathers, who was also detained and is still being held by Pakistani authorities.

While American officials have said that U.S. agencies had no knowledge of the men or their travels before their arrival in Pakistan, a person familiar with Pakistani government handling of the case told NEWSWEEK that one of the contacts that the five Americans got in touch with—quite possibly the person known as Saifullah—was already under surveillance by Pakistani authorities before he was contacted by the Americans. It was this surveillance, rather than any tip-off from the U.S., that led to the Americans' arrests, the source said.

U.S. officials said they could neither confirm nor deny this Pakistani version of events. In Washington last week, a leading lobbying group for the U.S. Muslim community, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that it had put distressed family members of the missing five men into contact with the FBI. The extent to which CAIR was instrumental in bringing the case to the attention of U.S. authorities has sparked a lively discussion in the blogosphere, with CAIR sympathizers and skeptics debating how much credit the sometimes-controversial group deserves.