, LAHORE, Dec 12 – Five US men arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of plotting "big" terror attacks had contacted someone linked to Al-Qaeda and were arrested before a scheduled meeting, police said Saturday.
The men have been questioned by the FBI and Pakistani officials, accused of seeking to engage in militant activities and trying travel to the northwest Taliban heartland, officials said Friday.
The men arrested on Wednesday in Sargodha, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of Islamabad, are US citizens with origins in other countries, including two Pakistani-Americans, officials said.
"They contacted a man known only as \’Saifullah\’, who has links with Al-Qaeda, and they were set to go to Mianwali town on the day they were arrested to see him," an official close to the investigation told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"Saifullah had asked them to come to Mianwali where one of his men would contact them and arrange a meeting at some unknown place," the official said.
"According to our investigations the group wanted to go to Waziristan via Mianwali to get terrorist training," he added.
Another official confirmed the account.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Friday that the men would not be deported back to the United States unless they are cleared of any crimes by Pakistani police first.
Meanwhile, police shifted the detained men to the eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, and formed a joint investigation team to probe them, Sargodha district police chief Usman Anwar told AFP.
"On the instructions of federal government, Punjab government formed a joint investigation team and handed over the suspects in Lahore," Anwar said.
"The detained men had contacted different militant outfits and they were planning to carry out big attacks," he added.
Sargodha police had registered a case against the men for conspiracy and plotting to carry out criminal activities, a local police official said.
A provincial government official told AFP that the joint investigation team comprised eight different departments and agencies who were quizzing the five men about their links with militants in Pakistan.
"An elite intelligence agency also investigated the suspects," he added.
Meanwhile US ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson held talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at the presidential palace, an official statement said.
"Issues concerning bilateral relations came under discussion," it said.
It was not clear if the men would be investigated and tried in Pakistan, or would be deported to the United States.
ABC News said Friday, citing a Pakistani police report, that the group used YouTube to praise and discuss strikes on US troops.
The 10-page interrogation report, obtained by ABC News and posted on its website, said one of the five men would regularly visit the video-sharing site to view footage of attacks on the US military.
Ahmed Abdullah Minni, 20, was registered on YouTube and regularly left comments on the videos praising their content, the report said.
He was contacted by "Saifullah" who the police report said initially communicated with Minni only through YouTube, it said.