WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s claims that it does not have terrorist training camps in its territory is being strongly contested by FBI which has told a US court that satellite pictures pointed towards such a camp.
In the trial of 23-year-old Pakistani American Hamid Hayat, who has been accused of terrorism-related charges, Defence Intelligence Agency’s expert Eric Benn has stated that there was as much of a seventy per cent “probablity” that the satellite images pointed to a militant training camp near Balakot in northeast Pakistan.
Much to Pakistan’s embarrassment, Benn told the district court in California that although he did not “detect any formal weapons training”, including firing ranges, targets, rocket launchers or explosives testing, it did not mean they were not taking place.
The structures and trail in the remote terrain fit the “signature” of “militant training”, as opposed to regular training of Pakistani armed forces, he said.
Hamid’s sentencing has been postponed by the court by four months to November and his father Umer Hayat, who at one time was charged with lying to federal authorities, is being retried after the first round ended in a hung jury, according to media reports.
The allegation against Hamid has been that from California’s area of Lodi, which has a small Pakistani immigrant community, the 23-year-old went to Pakistan to attend religious school and training for terrorism with the intent of returning to the US to commit violent acts.
The reports said Hamid, who was to be sentenced on July 14, is facing charges of militancy and ‘jihad’ which can give him a jail term of as many as 39 years.
The federal prosecutors want to nail their suspect– and indirectly Pakistan– in the terror training camp case.
The defence has argued that Hamid never attended any terror facility but only made up the story to satisfy agents of the FBI who grilled him in June last year.
The FBI rolled out its DIA’s imagery expert Benn, who on the basis of satellite photos of areas, initially argued that there was perhaps a fifty per cent “possibility” of a “militant training camp” in northeast Pakistan.
But after viewing Hamid’s confession to the FBI, the defence analyst concluded that there was as much of a seventy per cent “probability” that the satellite images pointed to a militant training camp.
Hamid’s jury was shown satellite images taken between 2001 and 2004 of a Pakistani national forest which was on a mountainous terrain and about 10 kms from Balakot.
The defence intelligence analyst apparently also identified a 3km trail linked to the main road and dotted with several structures that seemed to reflect a guard house, barracks with a tin roof and perhaps some mud houses as well, the reports said.
At the time of the trial, Benn also made the point that the facility in question seemed to expand. “It may have become less temporary and more permanent,” he testified.
Hamid’s initial confession was that he did a training camp in Balakot with Benn stressing that the youth’s descriptions of the lay out were “consistent with the physical things I observed” in the satellite images and which brought about the “60 to 70 per cent” certainty of the images depicting a militant training camp.
But Hamid also confessed later that he was at a camp in Afghanistan, in Kashmir and then Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden is believed to have taken refuge at one time.
Pakistan has been attracting notoriety with regard to terrorism-related charges with federal authorities arresting persons known to have connections with terror outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba which is seen in many quarters as nothing more than an extension of the al-Qaeda.