ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Federal agents raided homes in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania yesterday, bringing charges against a group of men who authorities say belong to a violent anti-American terrorist group and were training for possible attacks abroad.
In a 41-count indictment unsealed yesterday, 11 men, nine of whom are U.S. citizens, were charged with conspiracy and weapons violations. Officials said they were part of an effort to conduct jihad, or holy war, against Chechnya, India, the Philippines and Kashmir, the disputed region claimed by Pakistan and India.
There was no indication that the men were plotting any attacks within the United States, though the indictment said they intended "to serve in armed hostility against the United States." The indictment provided no details of this allegation.
According to the indictment, the men were working on behalf of Lashkar-e-Taiba, or "Army of the Righteous," which the U.S. government has designated a terrorist group. The indictment says the organization, which has been involved in the Kashmir region, has broadened its focus from countries in the South Asia region to oppose the United States, Britain and Israel.
Six of the men were arrested yesterday morning - two of them in or around Baltimore, three in Northern Virginia and one in Philadelphia. Of the remaining five, two are already in custody, and three are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.
According to the indictment, the men, in their late 20s or 30s, were stockpiling assault weapons and ammunition and practicing small-unit military tactics largely in Northern Virginia. Sometimes, the charges say, they did so with live ammunition, but on other occasions with paintball guns.
The charges allege that the men visited terrorist camps in Pakistan and sometimes trained on firing ranges run by the U.S. military.
"These indictments are a stark reminder that terrorist organizations of various allegiances are active in the United States, and these groups exploit America's freedom as a weapon to recruit and position themselves on our shores, in our society," the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Paul J. McNulty, said at a news conference in Alexandria.
The fathers of two of the men held a news conference to denounce what they said were baseless charges against their sons, Hammad Abdur-Raheem of Falls Church, Va., and Randall Todd Royer, and to proclaim their innocence, the Associated Press reported.
King Lyon, whose son, Abdur-Raheem, 35, is a Washington native who served in the Persian Gulf war, said: "My son is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He took an oath to uphold the laws of the United States of America. He is a loyal citizen, the same as I am."
Lawyers for some of the men could not be reached for comment. Salim Ali, a lawyer for Ibrahim Ahmed Al-Hamdi, who is already in custody, has said that his client has never been part of a terrorist group.
Several of the men traveled to Pakistan to train in Lashkar-e-Taiba's camps, the indictment says. They also attended lectures by Muslim scholar Ali al-Timimi at the Dar al Arqam Islamic Center in Falls Church, authorities said.
The five men arrested in the Baltimore-Washington region were arraigned before Judge T. Rawles Jones Jr. in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Some appeared almost preppy, in jeans or khakis and golf shirts.
The indictment alleges that Royer, 30, who public records show lives in Falls Church, urged others to join and travel to Pakistan, train in the camps and take up arms against India, as he had done. Royer, the indictment alleges, called handlers in Pakistan to sponsor many of the men for membership in Lashkar-e-Taiba. His father disputed those charges yesterday.
No relatives or friends of the men appeared to be in court.
In addition to Royer and Abdur-Raheem, Donald Thomas Surratt, 30, who records show lives in Suitland, Md.; Masoud Ahmad Khan, 31, who lives in Gaithersburg; and Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem, 29, of Falls Church were arraigned.
Also charged were the two in custody - Al-Hamdi and Yong Ki Kwon, 27, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Korea - and Mohammed Aatique, 30, a Pakistani national arrested in Philadelphia.
The three other men charged - Seifullah Chapman, 30; Khwaja Mahmood Hasan, 27, a U.S. citizen born in Pakistan; and Sabri Benkhala, 28 - are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.