Police caught a foreigner freshly arrived from Peshawar carrying a large backpack and casing the Punjab Assembly building amidst high security alerts in the city on Thursday, but he turned out to be a harmless tourist and was later released.
Andrei Mikhailov, 40, was briefly detained at Faisal Chowk by Civil Lines policemen before his host in Lahore arrived and showed the police a copy of his passport. Amanullah, a resident of Waris Road, said that Mikhailov had spent the last month in Peshawar and had travelled to Lahore via bus on Friday morning. Amanullah was supposed to have met up with him at the zoo.
Police officials said that Mikhailov had looked suspicious because he wore a shalwar kameez and a beard, indicating that he was trying to blend in with the crowd. He was also carrying a large backpack and was taking pictures of the Punjab Assembly building. Security in the city had already been stepped up as the chief justice was in town and the Punjab Assembly was in session. They said 16 police personnel had surrounded the man, told him to drop his bag and tried to question him, but he didn’t speak English. He was able to convey to the policemen that his host in Lahore was on his way to the scene.
“When I got to Faisal Chowk there was a huge number of policemen surrounding him like he was a terrorist,” said Amanullah.
He said the police had asked him whether Mikhailov had registered with the police or Home Department. He said they had told him that the registration of foreigners was being strictly enforced after the recent high profile kidnapping of an American, Warren Weinstein, from Lahore.
Amanullah said that he knew Mikhailov from couchsurfer.com, a website which facilitates low-cost travel by bringing together prospective tourists and hosts willing to put them up for free. “He was in Peshawar for a month as well with people he met through the web site,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2011.
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