There is no deportation order for five young American Muslims detained in Pakistan over alleged terrorist links, the country's interior minister said Friday.
Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, told Fox News that the men — who allegedly told investigators they were trying to connect with Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan — won't face possible deportation until the two countries complete their investigations.
A senior State Department official said Friday the U.S. expects Pakistan to deport the men after they allegedly sought to join up with terrorist groups and left behind a video saying fellow Muslims must be defended.
The official said Friday that it is not yet clear whether the men may have broken any Pakistani or U.S. laws during their stay in Pakistan.
The State Department official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the unfolding case.
The official confirmed that U.S. diplomats in Pakistan visited the detainees on Friday for a second time. Diplomatic security and FBI agents visited the men on Thursday. There was no immediate indication when the five might be returned to the United States.
A local police chief in Pakistan also said Friday the five will most likely be deported.
Pakistan authorities say the men used the social networking site Facebook and the Internet video site YouTube to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan. When they arrived in Pakistan, they allegedly took that effort to the street.
They were reported missing by their families in the Washington area a week ago after one of them left behind a farewell video showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.
Pakistani police detained them this week — along with one of their fathers — in Sargodha, a town in the eastern province of Punjab.
Regional police chief Javed Islam said the men had yet to be charged with any crime but they would "most probably" be deported. He declined to say how long police could hold them before they were charged.
A senior government official in Punjab said the five were being questioned first, and the overall legal process could take weeks.
"They are under investigation. We need to establish their links," Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told The Associated Press. "We are getting information that they had plans to travel to the tribal areas. We need to know which people they wanted to see and what their contacts were."
Amir Sherazi, a member of the team interrogating the men, said they were being questioned in five separate cells.
"They are in good health. They are eating," he said in a telephone interview.
The case has fanned fears that Americans and other Westerners — especially those of Pakistani descent — are traveling to Pakistan to join up with al-Qaida and other militant groups. It comes on the heels of charges against a Chicago man of Pakistani origin who is accused of surveying targets for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
Pakistan officials have said those detained included three Pakistani Americans, two Ethiopian Americans and an Egyptian American named Ramy Zamzam who is a dental student at Howard University in Washington.
The others were identified as Waqar Hussain, Aman Yamar, Ahmad Abdul Mimi, Umer Farooq and his father, Khalid Farooq. Pakistani officials have given various spellings of their names.
Pakistan police officials say the elder Farooq had a computer business in the state of Virginia and shuttled between the U.S. and Pakistan. Investigators are still trying to establish what role — if any — he played in the men's alleged activities, officials said.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group that helped bring the case of the missing men to the FBI's attention, the five left the country at the end of November without telling their families.
After the young men left, at least one phoned his family still claiming to be in the United States, but the caller ID information suggested he was overseas.
Islam, the police official, said Thursday the five men wanted to join militants in Pakistan's tribal areas before crossing into Afghanistan. He said they met representatives from the al-Qaida-linked Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group in the southeastern city of Hyderabad and from a related group, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, in Lahore, but were turned away because they were not trusted.
Pakistan has many militant groups based on its territory and the U.S. has been pressing the government to crack down on extremism. Al-Qaida and Taliban militants are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal belt near the Afghan border.
In August, police arrested a group of foreigners, including a Swede who had spent time in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, close to the Afghan border region and publicly accused them of al-Qaida links. They were held for over a month before being released and put on a plane out of the country.