‘High-profile kidnapping’: Police clueless in American aid worker’s abduction

Officials say he was targeted because of his nationality.

Express August 15, 2011

LAHORE: Police is still nowhere near recovering an American aid worker, who was kidnapped at gunpoint on Saturday, who was “targeted because of his nationality”, officials said on Sunday.

Warren Weinstein, 63, was kidnapped from his residence-cum-office in block J of Model Town by eight gunmen who overpowered his three guards and driver.

“One thing has been confirmed -- that he is American and that he was kidnapped for this reason,” DSP CIA Model Town Chaudhry Atif Hayat said.

He said that there had still been no claim of responsibility and police were still questioning his guards and colleagues, and combing phone records, as part of the search. “So far we have no clue, nor has anyone contacted us,” he said.

Police officials said that they were also questioning the local watchman, but had so far made no arrests.

Officials from the police’s organised crime branch have so far questioned at least 50 people in this regard.

One police official contacted by The Express Tribune said they were “primarily focusing on the escape vehicle”. He said that based on the testimonies of local watchmen, they were “now sure which vehicle had been used” in the crime.

DSP Hayat, however, denied identifying the vehicle used by abductors, adding that they were getting no response from mobile phones snatched from two of the guards. He claimed that the police was not overlooking any angle. He said that they were still not yet able to determine whether it was an act of terrorism or simply a case of kidnapping for ransom.

Umer Virik, a police investigator, declined to give any concrete information, saying disclosing what little progress police had made would hamper the investigation.

He, however, said that three guards should have put up some resistance, adding that one of them had once been in the army. He said that the entire situation was “suspicious”, but he could say nothing for sure.

Abdur Razzaque Cheema, another investigator, said that police were trying their utmost to ensure Weinstein’s quick and safe recovery. He said that all exit and entry points of the city were being watched.

Police described the abductors as Urdu-speakers, and hence unlikely to be from the tribal areas, wearing Western-style shirts and trousers, according to witness testimony from one of Weinstein’s guards.

Investigators told AFP they have been frustrated by a lack of witnesses coming forward to say they saw him being driven off in what kind of vehicle.

Police say Weinstein is from the US state of Maryland and speaks Urdu.

“This is a high-profile case and two police teams are busy in the investigation,” said Hayat. “There are up to 25 local Pakistani staff working under him and we’re also questioning them.

“We are collecting call data of all those working in the office.”

US embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said embassy authorities were working with the Pakistanis on the investigation. One man told AFP on condition of anonymity that he had only seen a foreigner in the street twice in six years.

“I thought it was some NGO office. Not many houses are given on rent in this area,” he said.

Meanwhile, J E Austin Associate has appealed to the abductors to provide “Dr Warren with his required medication, citing his “old age and poor health”.

In their message, they said that Dr Warren was working for Pakistan’s “development and poverty reduction programmes”.  (Additional input by AFP)

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2011.