LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani police on Thursday released a sketch of a man suspected of being involved in kidnapping an American development expert, but there are no clues so far about the abductors’ motive.
In a pre-dawn raid Saturday, up to eight assailants broke into the house of Warren Weinstein, the country director for J.E. Austin Associates, in the eastern city of Lahore and abducted him after overpowering security guards.
The brazen raid raised worries among aid workers, diplomats and other foreigners working in Pakistan, which is battling an Islamist militancy and where anti-American sentiments run very high.
The police detained a number of people, including the security guards and Weinstein’s driver, for questioning after the kidnapping.
“We have released the sketch of one of the suspects based on information received from the detained people,” a senior police official in Lahore, capital of the central Punjab province, told Reuters.
Authorities, however, said they had not uncovered the motive behind the crime.
“Up until now, we are treating it as a simple kidnapping case. ... We are confident we will recover him soon,” Rana Sanaullah, provincial law minister who also responsible for security affairs of the province, told Reuters.
The American embassy in Pakistan has offered its forensic teams to help with investigations.
Police said the gunmen barged into house on the pretext of sharing a meal with the guards, a common practice during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which started early this month. The attackers then forced Weinstein’s driver to knock on his bedroom door. When he opened it, they took him.
The victim, who is elderly, had been living in Pakistan for five to six years, according to police. He mostly lived in Islamabad but had been travelling to Lahore.
Kidnapping for ransom is relatively common in Pakistan, although foreigners are not often targets.
Militants also occasionally take foreigners hostage but these incidents have taken place in the volatile western regions bordering Afghanistan, where Islamist insurgents are very active.
No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction.
Sanuallah implied that Weinstein was a spy.
“We suspect that he was involved in intelligence gathering because we offered him a police escort, deployed police at his house, but he resisted our attempts,” he said.
“It gives the impression that he did not want us to keep a check on his activities and that makes it suspicious.”
Weinstein’s’ friends in the aid community have strenuously denied rumours he was working for any intelligence agency. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman also denied it.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have sharply deteriorated since January, when a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, and worsened after U.S. Navy SEALS killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a raid in northwestern Pakistan that Islamabad termed a breach of its sovereignty.
Pakistani Taliban, linked to al Qaeda, have claimed responsibility for kidnapping a Swiss couple in July in the volatile southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Eight Pakistani employees of a U.S.-based aid organisation, American Refugee Committee, were kidnapped in Baluchistan last month.
J.E. Austin & Associates, an Arlington, is a Virginia-based consulting firm and has been working on a development project in lawless tribal areas where Pakistani troops have been battling Islamist insurgents for years.
Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Miral Fahmy