An American aid expert was kidnapped at gunpoint from his house in Lahore on Saturday after gunmen stormed through the back door and overpowered his guards.
The US embassy identified the man, who police said was 63 years old, as Warren Weinstein and said that he worked for a private company. He was snatched before dawn in the upscale Model Town neighbourhood, just two days before he was due to return to the United States after spending more than four years in the country.
Police described how eight kidnappers forced their way into the house as Weinstein’s guards were having their Sehari at 3:30 am.
“Somebody knocked on the main door. One of the guards said that when he opened the door, he saw three men standing there. They offered meals to the guard, who politely refused,” said police official Tajamul Hussain.
Just as one of the guards, Aurangzeb, refused “five more men climbed into the house using the back door, overpowered the guards and tied their hands behind their back,” Hussain added. “They asked Weinstein’s driver, Muhammad Israr, to knock on his bedroom door. When Weinstein opened the door, they grabbed him.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the kidnapping.
Police said Weinstein had lived in Lahore since 2006, working for J E Austin Associates, however police were never informed about him. Police claimed that the manner in which the kidnapping was carried out was extremely well planned and meticulously executed, ruling out the incident to be a case of kidnapping for ransom.
“He was to return to the US on August 15 as his firm had completed the project in Fata,” said SP Model Town Malik Awas. He added that Weinstein was a highly paid official and that the case had been transferred to the organised crime department.
SP Investigation Model Town Shoaib Khurram Janbaz told The Express Tribune that the two cameras at separate entries of the house had been out of order for last two years, adding that his (Weinstein’s) guards and driver were being interrogated.
“We are working with local authorities on the investigation, and we also are in contact with next of kin and are providing the family with consular support,” State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore told AFP.
A biography of Weinstein on his consulting firm’s website said he has a doctorate in international law and economics, is a Fulbright Scholar with 25 years of experience in international development projects who speaks six foreign languages and is well known among donor agencies.
“Currently, Dr Weinstein is serving as chief of party for JAA (J E Austin Associates) on the Pakistan Initiative for Strategic Development and Competitiveness,” the firm’s website said. Later on Saturday, Weinstein’s biography was removed from the website.
A representative of J E Austin could not be immediately reached for comment at the firm’s office in Arlington.
According to its website, the Virginia-based J E Austin has completed more than 500 projects in 100 countries on behalf of clients all over the world, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the main foreign aid arm of the US government, according to a USAID report on the project.
Police said Weinstein travelled widely within Pakistan, and had returned to Lahore from Islamabad on Thursday.
The US State Department last Monday revised its travel warning, saying that Americans throughout Pakistan have been kidnapped for ransom or for personal reasons.
Recent foreign targets
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for kidnapping a Swiss couple in July in Balochistan. Eight Pakistani employees of a US-based aid organisation, American Refugee Committee (ARC), were kidnapped in Balochistan last month.
(With additional input from wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.