December 9th, 2009
04:19 PM ET

Police: 5 arrested in Pakistan were reported missing in U.S.

UPDATE:U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday he envisioned "a series of investigations" into the arrest of five people in Pakistan whom a police official there described as American. Full Story

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) - Five people arrested in Pakistan had been reported missing in the United States, and police are confident they were planning terrorist acts, a Pakistani police official told CNN.

It is too premature to link the men with any terrorist organizations, said Tahir Gujjrar, deputy superintendent of police in Sargodha, Pakistan, but preliminary investigations suggest they had sought to link up with the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jamaat ud Dawa militant organizations. Neither group showed interest, however, Gujjrar said.

The five were from Virginia and their families had contacted the FBI soon after they went missing, he said. They include two Pakistani-Americans, two Yemeni-Americans and an Egyptian-American.

The arrests came following a raid on a home in Sargodha, about 120 miles south of Islamabad, Gujjrar said.

The FBI had said earlier that it was trying to determine whether a link existed between the five missing men and the arrests in Pakistan.

The State Department said it does not have confirmation of the arrested individuals' identities or whether they are Americans. The U.S. embassy in Islamabad is seeking further information.

If the individuals are Americans, the United States will be seeking consular access, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

"If they are American citizens, we are going to be very interested in the charges they have been detained on and the circumstances in which they are being held," he said. "That is something we would do anywhere and that is why the embassy is seeking further information."

Watch Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she comments on global terrorism

Under the Geneva Convention, Pakistan is required to notify the United States about any Americans arrested, Kelly said.

A Pakistani official told CNN the men arrived in Karachi on November 20 and went on to Lahore and then Sargodha, where they were arrested Monday, the official said. The arrests came at the behest of local police. Preliminary investigations are ongoing, the official said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement Wednesday it was assisting in the investigation of "five Muslim young men from Virginia who left the country recently under mysterious circumstances."

The parents of the missing youths and local Muslim leaders approached the council about the disappearances and the organization "immediately informed the FBI," the council said.

CAIR Executive Director Ibrahim Hooper told CNN one of the missing youths was a student at Howard University, and all five knew each other.

One of the youths left a video behind, Nihad Awad, the council's executive director, told reporters. "I was disturbed by the content of it," he said.

One person appeared in it, and made references to "the ongoing conflict in the world, and that young Muslims have to do something," Awad said. He said the video "juxtaposed certain verses of the Quran," and he suggested there was a misunderstanding of those verses and their potential misuse.

The video is about 11 minutes long, he said, and is "like a farewell." Awad said it did not specify what the youths would be doing, but he has seen similar videos on the Internet, and "it just made me uncomfortable."

The council and the Muslim community realize there is a problem, although it is not widespread, Awad said, and is "going to launch a major campaign of education to refute the misuse of verses in the Quran, or the misuse of certain grievances in the Muslim world. We believe that we can do a lot to reinstate confidence in young American Muslims, that they have to be fully engaged, as the majority of them are engaged in civic life and in the political process."

He and other Muslim officials cautioned against a rush to judgment against the youths, and praised their families and members of the Muslim community for approaching law enforcement and assisting in the investigation.

At the end of November, he said, the youths told their parents they were attending a local conference, but their parents became suspicious when calling their cell phones because they got what sounded like an overseas ring tone. The families then went to the council.

"The main concern was to get them back and figure out what was going on and protect any national security and everybody's rights," Hooper said. He said he understood the five left the country in a couple of groups at the end of November.

Along with the families and Muslim community leaders, the council said it was working to assist investigators.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations in the Washington area, said that while the five were active in their mosques, "From all of our interviews, there's been no sign that they were in any way outwardly radicalized ... there haven't been any reports that there was anything outwardly suspicious in their behavior."

The FBI is aware of the arrests, and is also investigating a report of five people reported missing from the Washington area, said Katherine Schweit, spokeswoman for the agency's Washington field office.

"We are working with Pakistan authorities to determine their identities and the nature of their business there" - if the people arrested are the people who are missing, she said. She declined to elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation.

U.S. authorities have been wary of Islamic militants recruiting young Muslims from the United States to fight overseas.

Prosecutors in Minnesota recently arrested eight Somali-American men on charges related to what they said were efforts to recruit youths from the Minneapolis area to fight for al-Shabaab, a Somali guerrilla movement battling the African country's U.N.-backed transitional government. At least two young men from Minnesota have been killed in Somalia, including one who blew himself up in what is believed to have been the first suicide bombing carried out by a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The matter has "always been a concern," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. "We have been well aware of the threats that we continue to face along with friends and allies around the world ... we know that we have to work more closely with both Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to root out the infrastructure of terrorism that continues to recruit and train people."

CNN's Jeanne Meserve and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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