Pakistan questions at least 7 about New York bomb plot

McClatchy NewspapersMay 4, 2010 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities Tuesday detained at least seven people whom they alleged are linked with New York bomb plot suspect Faisal Shahzad, as Shazad's father, a retired high Pakistani military official, fled his home after local news media discovered him.

The arrests occurred in Faisalabad in the center of Pakistan, Karachi in the south and may have extended to Peshawar, a city in northwest Pakistan on the edge of the militant-dominated tribal area, officials said.

Shahzad's father, Baharul Haq, a former senior Air Force officer, lives in an upscale suburb of Peshawar, according to security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Said to be a retired Air Vice Marshall, Haq hurriedly left the large family home in the Hayatabad suburb Tuesday, along with the rest of the family, when Pakistani media found the house.

A U.S. official in Washington, who can't be identified for security reasons, confirmed that Shahzad's father is a retired Pakistani air force officer.

Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad's father, told reporters in Peshawar that Shahzad visited his family in Peshawar whenever he came to Pakistan.

"We are shocked. He (Shahzad) had no connection with any political party or jihadi group," Ali said.

According to the U.S. criminal complaint, Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, said he'd recently received "bomb-making training in Waziristan," although the bomb he left in New York's Times Square over the weekend was poorly made and failed to explode. Waziristan is the epicenter of extremism in Pakistan, a part of the tribal area that acts as a buffer zone between the country and Afghanistan.

The court document containing the preliminary charges said Shahzad's cell phone had received "a series of calls from Pakistan" following his purchase of the vehicle used in the attempted bombing. He'd returned to the U.S. in February after what he told immigration officials was a five-month trip to Pakistan, the indictment said. He stated then that his wife remained behind in Pakistan.

The detentions, at least seven, took place in the southern port city of Karachi and also in the central Punjabi town of Faisalabad. Officials said that those taken in were being "questioned" at this stage, rather than arrested. There also may have been detentions in Khyber-Pashtunkhwa, the north west province.

In Karachi, the key detainee appeared to be Tausif Ahmed, said to be a childhood friend and neighbor of Shahzad. Shahzad is thought to have spent his formative years in the middle class neighborhood of North Nazimabad, an area that's comfortable but not known as a district for Karachi's elite. Unlike some areas of Karachi, however, North Nazimabad isn't known for extremist links.

Ahmed was said to have traveled at least once to the U.S. to visit Shahzad. Ahmed's father-in-law, Ifitkhar Hussain, also was taken into custody.

"At this stage, people are just being rounded up. Anyone who knew him," said one senior Pakistani official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the issue and couldn't be named. "We're chasing everything down."

Pakistani intelligence agencies are working closely with the FBI on the investigation.

Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, told reporters in Islamabad that Shahzad's family was originally from a village in Pabbi district, a few miles outside Peshawar.

"Naturally, we will cooperate fully with the United States," Malik said.

According to one security official, Shahzad has a brother and other family in Canada.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Warren P. Strobel contributed to this article from Washington.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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