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Other News: 5 Americans Face Possible Life Sentences in Pakistan

December 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT


JEFFREY BROWN: Now, for the other news of the day, here’s Hari Sreenivasan in our newsroom — Hari.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening. Five Americans will face terror charges in Pakistan, according to an announcement from Pakistani police today.

The court date for the five men was set for January 4. Police plan to charge them with terrorism and seek life sentences. The young Muslim men were all arrested at this house in central Pakistan earlier this month. Police found jihadist literature and maps of Pakistani cities and sensitive military sites.

USMAN ANWAR, Sargodha District police chief: They were going to plan something big. Otherwise, they wouldn’t need five Americans to fight alongside them in war front in Afghanistan, especially ones that do not have any military training.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The men, aged 19 to 25, are from the Washington, D.C., area. Their families contacted the FBI before their arrests after finding a farewell video made on behalf of all five. The five reportedly met here in Northern Virginia when they were members of a youth group sponsored by their mosque.

MUSTAFA ABU MARYAM, Islamic Circle of North America: Our group discussions never talked about politics, never talked about ongoing conflicts, never talked about fighting against anyone, indirectly or directly. On the contrary, we always promoted being compassionate toward others and good stewards of humanity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Officials in both the U.S. and Pakistan have said they expect the men would eventually be deported back to the U.S. But the new charges would likely delay that process.

As the year comes to a close, U.S. military deaths soared in Afghanistan, where the war is escalating. But fewer troops died in Iraq, where the operation is winding down. In Afghanistan, 318 American troops were killed in 2009. That’s more than double the number who died in 2008. In Iraq, 150 Americans lost their lives this year. That toll is nearly half what it was in 2008, when 314 U.S. troops died.

2009 ended with some positive economic news. The Labor Department reported new claims for unemployment fell unexpectedly to their lowest levels since July of 2008. But, for all of 2009, nearly 14 million people claimed unemployment.

Stocks on Wall Street closed out the final day of the year’s trading on a down note. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 120 points to close at 10428. The Nasdaq fell 22 points to close at 2269. But, for the year, Wall Street made a major comeback, rebounding from 2008’s dismal drop. The Nasdaq climbed almost 44 percent, while the Dow gained nearly 19 percent.

Ruth Lilly, the last surviving great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly, died last night in Indianapolis. Over the course of her life, Lilly gave away the bulk of her inheritance, some $800 million dollars. Most of it went to charitable organizations and arts groups based in Indiana. She also gave a $100 million dollar donation to the literary magazine “Poetry,” which had rejected her submissions for years. Lilly was 94 years old.

Parts of the world have already ushered in the new year. In Sydney, Australia, more than a million people turned up to watch fireworks over the city’s landmark Harbour Bridge. Fireworks also lit up the skies over Red Square in Moscow.

Back in the U.S., crowds began gathering in New York’s Times Square under a light snow for the ball drop at midnight. Security is stepped up there, with police and other officials planning a sweep of the area for biological contaminants.