ISLAMABAD – ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Pakistani government presented evidence in court Saturday that allegedly showed contacts between five detained Americans and a reputed al-Qaida-linked militant leader, revealing the leader's identity for the first time, a prosecutor said.
The northern Virginia men are on trial charged with planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan and conspiring to wage war against nations allied with it. They deny any wrongdoing.
But prosecutors say they made contact with Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami militant network, which is believed to have extensive contacts with al-Qaida and the Taliban. Formed in the 1980s, it recruited militants from the Punjab province to fight in Afghanistan and later Kashmir in operations supported by Pakistani security forces.
Akhtar has been arrested twice before — in the United Arab Emirates in 2004 and by Pakistani authorities in 2008 — but released each time for unknown reasons. At the time of his arrest in 2008, he was publicly accused of involvement in a failed attack on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
Prosecutor Nadeem Akram said the evidence produced Saturday at the court includes documents, phone call logs and retrieved e-mails. The court sessions are taking place behind closed doors in a high security prison in Sargodha.
The Americans, all in their late teens or early 20s, were arrested in December in Sargodha, a city in Punjab province. They were reported missing by their families in November after one left behind a farewell video showing scenes of war and casualties and saying Muslims must be defended.
The prosecution has so far presented 13 witnesses in the trial.
Defense lawyer Hasan Dastagir alleged police had fabricated the evidence. He said he would produce enough evidence to convince judges of their innocence.
The men have alleged they have been tortured — something that human rights groups say is common in Pakistani custody. If found guilty, the face life in jail.
Amal Khalifa, mother of Ramy Zamzam, one of the accused, said her son looked gaunt when she briefly visited him in jail, where he was being held with four friends.
Kahlifa's son described being stretched out by both arms and beaten on the torso. He also said he was deprived of sleep.
"They wanted him to say he was there for terrorist reasons," Khalifa said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday in the U.S. She said she did not believe her son gave a confession, but that others did.
She said her son was in Pakistan to attend a wedding.
Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report from Washington.