Five young Americans captured in Pakistan were being questioned today for possible links to terror groups after their families found a disturbing farewell video saying that Muslims must be defended.
Frantic relatives and FBI agents had been searching for the five men for more than a week since their disappearance in late November.
The missing men, aged from 19 to 25, have family roots in the northern Virginia and Washington DC area. One, Ramy Zamzam, is a dental student at Howard University.
In the aftermath of charges filed against a man in Chicago, Illinois, having been accused of plotting international terror, the case is another worrisome sign that Americans might be recruited within the US to enlist in terror networks.
Leaders of an Islamic American group said the families of the five men asked the FBI for help and were particularly disturbed to see the video message.
"One person appeared in that video and they made references to the ongoing conflict in the world, and that young Muslims have to do something," said Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"The video's about 11 minutes and it's like a farewell. And they did not specify what they would be doing. But just hearing and seeing videos similar on the internet, it just made me uncomfortable."
The video has not been made public.
Before they left, they did not seem to have become militant, local imam Johari Abdul-Malik said.
"From all of our interviews, there was no sign they were outwardly radicalised," he said.
In Pakistan, police officer Tahir Gujjar said five Americans were picked up in a raid on a house in Sarghoda in the eastern province of Punjab. He did not identify them, but said three were of Pakistani descent, one of Egyptian descent and the other had Yemeni heritage.
A younger brother of Zamzam, interviewed at the family's Alexandria, Virginia, apartment, said he had a 4.0 grade-point average, the highest possible in American schools, and was "a good guy".
"He's a normal Joe," said the brother, identifying himself only by a nickname, Zam.
Imran Gardezi, press minister at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said the men "are under arrest in Pakistan. The investigation is to see whether they had any links to any extremist groups". No charges have been filed.
Pakistani regional police chief Mian Javed Islam said the men spent the past few days in the city of Sarghoda, near an air base about 125 miles south of the capital Islamabad.
US embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire said officials were aware of the reported arrests but could not confirm them.
Pakistan has many militant groups based in its territory and the US has been pressing the government to crack down on extremism. Al-Qaida and Taliban militants are believed to be hiding in lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.
In Washington, Katherine Schweit, a spokeswoman for the FBI's local office said agents had been trying to help find the men.
"The FBI is working with the families and local law enforcement to investigate the missing students and is aware of the individuals arrested in Pakistan," she said.
"We are working with Pakistan authorities to determine their identities and the nature of their business there if indeed these are the students who had gone missing."
According to officials at CAIR, 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 US, but the caller ID information suggested they were overseas.
The families, members of the local Muslim community, took their concerns to CAIR, which put them in touch with the FBI and got them a lawyer, the group said.
A Howard University spokesman confirmed Zamzam was a student there but would not comment further.
Samirah Ali, president of Howard University's Muslim Student Association, said the FBI contacted her last week about Zamzam and told her he had been missing for a week.
She said she had known him for three years and never suspected he would be involved in radical activities.
"He's a very nice guy, very cordial, very friendly," she said, adding that he had a bubbly personality. "It really caught me off guard."