Pakistan detainee was happy in US, father says

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — A catering company executive who was among six men apparently detained by Pakistan for allegedly helping the Times Square bombing suspect had differences with American policy in the region but no hatred toward the country, his father said Saturday.

Like Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American accused in the failed New York bombing, the six Pakistani detainees are all members of their country’s urban elite, some of them educated in the United States.

One was a former major who bought his way out of the army because of a “disagreement with its policies,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official who told The Associated Press about the detentions. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

The co-owner of the upscale Hanif Rajput Catering Service, Salman Ashraf Khan, was recruited because two other suspects “wanted him to help bomb a big gathering of foreigners” whose event his company was catering, the intelligence officer said.

Khan’s father said Saturday he was baffled by the accusations because his son is a successful businessman who lived happily as a student in the U.S. for four years. The younger Khan studied hotel management in Florida and computer science in Houston, returning to Pakistan in 2001 to take over the family business.

“How can a man who is so much involved in this business be accused of such an activity, which only a wild animal can think about?” Rana Ashraf Khan said in a telephone interview.

“He might have differences about whatever has been going on in our region for the last 10 or 11 years. We all have differences,” Khan said. “(But he had) no feelings against the United States at all. He lived there happily, he studied there.”

The family reported Salman Ashraf Khan missing after he failed to turn up at his office on May 10. A neighbor’s guard saw a man drop off Khan’s car at the family home about an hour after he left for work, then speed off in a taxi with several others, the father said.

Hanif Rajput Catering Service is popular among foreign embassies and many of Pakistan’s wealthiest companies and individuals. In a statement on its website, the U.S. Embassy warned that the catering company was suspected of ties to terrorist groups and said American diplomats had been instructed to stop using it.

The suspects were part of a loose network motivated by hatred of America and the West. One of the men often traveled to the tribal areas close to the Afghan border where U.S. officials have said Shahzad received explosives training under the Pakistani Taliban, the official said.

At least two allegedly helped Shahzad with funding, the official and another Pakistani security officer said, although the exact nature of their link to the Times Square bombing suspect was still being investigated.

It was unclear when the six suspects were arrested. All but one was picked up in the capital, Islamabad, said the intelligence official, who was involved in the interrogations.

The ex-major is from Rawalpindi, where the army headquarters is situated. Last week, an army spokesman denied anyone connected to the army was arrested in the probe, saying only a retired major had been arrested on disciplinary grounds and was being investigated.

The link to the army is noteworthy because of the Pakistani military’s past support for Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir, and Shazad’s family ties to the air force. It was unclear whether the suspect’s ties to Shahzad were ongoing when he still served.

The suspects are believed to be in the custody of Pakistani intelligence, which has been known to hold people for months — if not years — without trial. It cooperates closely with the CIA, which is often given access to detainees.

Shahzad is accused of leaving an SUV rigged with a homemade car bomb in New York’s Times Square on May 1 that failed to explode. The 30-year-old was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States when he was 18. The son of a former air force officer, he led a privileged life. He has family roots in the northwestern city of Peshawar and grew up in at least one other city, Karachi, relatives and officials have said.