Families defend Pakistanis detained over NYC bomb

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — When Pakistani intelligence agents probing the botched Times Square car bombing dragged Humbal Akhtar from his house, his wife grabbed his arm in desperation. “What has he done wrong?” Rahila Akhtar screamed before they took him away.

She didn’t get an answer, and still hasn’t nearly two weeks later. She has heard nothing of his fate, or whether he’s even accused of a crime.

“He is a simple, honest and loving person,” she said between tears Friday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t know where to go to find him and I have no idea where is he being held. But now I am driving alone on roads and looking for my husband.”

Under American pressure, Pakistan has rounded up at least 11 people since the attempted attack May 1 in New York City. An intelligence official has alleged two of them played a role in plot, but gave few details. No one has been charged.

The detentions are angering the men’s families, as well as human rights activists in Pakistan who have long campaigned against such actions by the country’s powerful and largely unaccountable intelligence agencies.

The families of five of the detained men have told The Associated Press they knew the main suspect detained in the United States, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, or others held in connection with him, but insist they are innocent.

Most come from the same stock as Shahzad — wealthy, urban, educated and with careers such as computers, telecommunications and graphic design. Several are observant Muslims and had expressed anti-American sentiments, but that combination is common in Pakistan.

One of three men arrested in the U.S. and accused of supplying money to Shahzad was ordered to be deported to his native Pakistan by a U.S. immigration judge Thursday. Aftab Khan has said he never heard of Shahzad before his May 13 arrest, but federal authorities allege he had Shahzad’s name in his cell phone and written on an envelope.

Detentions by Pakistani intelligence agencies are typically never confirmed by government officials or security forces. People can be held for months or years without charge, in clear violation of Pakistani law.

Human rights groups allege that torture while in detention is common. Several people arrested by the intelligence agencies in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were given to the United States and their families were not informed.

“Whoever captured my son is a terrorist,” said Rana Ashraf Khan, whose son, Salman Ashraf, was detained while driving to work. “I am extremely worried about his safety.”

The catering company Khan runs with with his son was accused of possible terrorist links by the U.S. Embassy when news of his detention broke.

U.S. officials have accused Shahzad of working with the Pakistani Taliban to organize the car bomb, a rudimentary device that failed to explode. Shahzad was arrested two days after the bombing attempt as he tried to fly out of the United States on a jetliner bound for the Middle East.

Seven people are known to have been detained in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Officials have said four others were picked up in the southern city of Karachi, several of whom had links to a mosque there run by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a militant group with connections to al-Qaida. It is not clear whether any have since been released.

An intelligence official has identified one of those detained — Shoaib Mughal — as a go-between for Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban in their hide-outs close the Afghan border. He was running a large computer dealership in Islamabad before his detention.

The other suspect alleged to have had some kind of involvement in the plot, identified only by his first name, Shahid, is alleged to have helped arrange money for Shahzad, but it is unclear what for.

Rahila Akhtar said around 20 intelligence agents and police officers came for her husband in the heat of mid-afternoon on May 17, jumping over the gate and banging on the door of their house. They asked for Humbal and started dragging him away.

“On seeing that, I was shocked and I started weeping, and I tightly held my husband’s arm and said, ‘I am not going to allow you to take him away,'” she said. She said officers told her not to make a scene.

They asked about her and Humbal, 35, and where his mobile phone was.

She went inside to get the phone, but when she returned Humbal was gone. She said hours later she received a telephone call from someone who did not give his name, assuring her that her husband would be safe.

Rahila Akhtar said her husband graduated from a private university in Islamabad and worked briefly for the government before starting a graphic design business. She said he worked from home to help her raise their three children, all under 5.

Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission said it was investigating the detentions.

“No one should be arrested without prima facie evidence. They should be produced in court and their family should be informed,” said I.A. Rehman, a leader of the commission. “Whatever agencies may be involved, the law must be followed.”


Associated Press Writer Chris Brummitt contributed to this report.