Five young Muslim men from the Washington, D.C. area received 10-year prison sentences from a Pakistani court Thursday, after being found guilty of plotting terrorist attacks.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they planned to appeal the outcome. Prosecutor Rana Bakhtiar said his appeal would seek longer prison terms.
"We are surprised," defense attorney Hassan Katchela was quoted saying in the New York Times. "We were not expecting this decision. The families want to challenge the verdict in high court."
The men disappeared in late November and were caught in Pakistan about a week later. They later claimed they were trying to make their way to Afghanistan to engage in relief efforts, but Pakistani authorities say emails and other communication showed they intended to join Taliban forces fighting American troops.
Their story changed over time. After their families discovered them missing and turned to law enforcement, it was disclosed that Howard University dental student Ramy Zamzam, considered the group's leader, left behind a "disturbing" farewell video. Leaving a Pakistani court in January, Zamzam told a reporter ""we are not terrorists…we are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism."
They also made repeated claims that they were tortured in custody. Pakistani officials deny this, noting American consul officials had repeated visits with them and no formal complaints of mistreatment were ever filed.
U.S. law enforcement officials are believed to have conducted their own investigation, but have held off any decisions to see what happened in Pakistan. The Times report said officials believe they have "considerable evidence suggesting that the men had been radicalized and planned violence."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which helped the families report their sons' disappearance, argued that they should be released if Pakistan sent them back to the United States.
"Charging them and throwing them in jail is not the solution," CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said in December. "The government has to show some appreciation for the actions of the parents and the community. That will encourage other families to come forward."
On Thursday, Awad said the families "are in a state of shock" over the verdicts.