ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The arrest of five US nationals in Pakistan for trying to join Islamist militant groups is a "wake up call" about Muslim radicalization in the United States, a local imam said Friday.
And imam Mahdi Bray said his community in Virginia would hit back against viral Internet postings by militants with an online effort of its own.
Leaders of the Alexandria mosque attended by the five youngsters described them as normal, career-focused kids.
"This is indeed a wake up call," Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, told reporters outside the mosque.
"We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our young children through slick propaganda on the Internet," Bray added.
"We are sending a message loud and clear that those days are over when we don't respond... We are going to be active, proactive."
But he acknowledged that the emotions of young Muslims were stirred by "injustices" they see unfolding in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States is engaged in wars to root out extremists.
Pakistan officials said they arrested five Americans on Wednesday in Sardogha, Pakistan.
And pictures of the detainees shown on the private Express TV station Friday showed five young men, most of them clean-shaven, in Western clothing.
But State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said on Friday that "six detainees have US citizenship."
He added US consular officials had met them and provided them with a list of lawyers. But another official, asking to remain anonymous, said there was no word yet whether they would be deported or not.
The Virginia mosque's youth coordinator Mustafa Abu Maryam said he had "never observed extreme behavior" from the men, who he described as "young kids with a bright future."
"Our group discussions never talked about politics, never talked about ongoing conflicts, never talked about fighting anyone," he said.
Essam Tellawi, a spokesman for the mosque, which is launching an internal investigation, said the community was praying that the detainees "come back safe" and urged for a "speedy resolution."
Noting that the families of the five detainees were going through "severe hardship," he insisted the Islamic center's teachings were messages of "moderation, tolerance, peaceful interaction with our neighbors, other faiths."
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