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Gunmen abduct American in Pakistan

By and Aoun Sahi,

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A band of gunmen abducted an American aid worker from his home in the eastern city of Lahore early Saturday, Pakistani police officials said, in an unusual incident likely to fuel questions about the security of Americans in a country beset by both Islamist militancy and kidnapping gangs.

The U.S. Embassy identified the man as Warren Weinstein, and a profile on the LinkedIn networking Web site indicated that he serves as Pakistan country director for the Arlington-based development contractor J.E. Austin Associates. The firm’s Web site said it has held contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), including in the insurgent-riddled tribal border region, and that Weinstein headed a “strategic development and competitiveness” initiative.

The LinkedIn profile said Weinstein — who maintains a residence in Rockville — had lived in the cultural hub of Lahore for seven years. A Lahore police investigator, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Weinstein mostly traveled between the eastern cities of Lahore, Islamabad and Sialkot and that he had no evidence Weinstein had worked in the northwestern tribal areas.

A police investigator working on the case said his team had not determined whether the abductors were Islamist militants or kidnappers seeking a ransom. Kidnapping for ransom is not uncommon in Pakistan. The tactic is used by both criminal rings and Islamist militant groups to raise money, authorities say. But the targets are rarely foreigners.

Even so, in a country where anti-American sentiment runs deep, the U.S. Embassy and American contracting firms often severely limit their employees’ travels, citing security concerns. U.S. officials say that has hampered their ability to implement civilian aid projects in Pakistan, a U.S. ally.

A State Department travel warning this month warned U.S. citizens of what it called a growing kidnapping threat across Pakistan. Two Swiss citizens were abducted last month as they traveled in the restive southwestern province of Baluchistan, and the Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility. The two remain missing.

Foreigners in Pakistan have faced increasing scrutiny since January, when a CIA contractor fatally shot two Pakistanis who he said were trying to rob him on a busy Lahore street corner. That incident sparked a firestorm of rumors about battalions of American spies roaming around Pakistan, raising concern among U.S. officials that Americans, including aid workers, might face new threats.

Deputy police superintendent Shahzada Saleem said Weinstein was at his rented house in the upscale Model Town neighborhood when three men approached his security guards about 3:10 a.m. Saturday and offered to share food before the Ramadan fast began at daybreak. As the guards opened a gate, at least three more men forced their way in, tied up the guards and a driver, and abducted Weinstein, Saleem said. The men wore Western-style shirts and pants, police said.

Another senior police official said that it appeared “insiders” — possibly people who worked at Weinstein’s home — were involved and that his guards and driver had been taken in for questioning.

Weinstein’s LinkedIn profile said he works in Pakistan on an $11 million USAID-funded “competitiveness” project relating to products including dairy, gems, furniture and marble.

Alberto Rodriguez, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, said American officials were working with Pakistani authorities on the case.

Police officials said Weinstein had just returned from a 10-day stay in Islamabad, the capital, and that a calendar recovered from his house and statements from his staff indicated he intended to leave for the United States on Monday. It was unclear whether he planned to leave permanently or return to Pakistan.

A man who identified himself only as “a family friend” issued the following statement in response to a reporter’s requests to speak to members of Weinstein’s family: “The family does not wish to talk to the press at this time. They ask that people respect their privacy during this trying time.”

Jeanne Wagonner, who has lived on the same street in Weinstein’s Rockville neighborhood for more than 30 years, said her husband told her of the kidnapping Saturday morning after hearing the news on television. “He has always been overseas, so we almost never see him,” Waggoner said of Weinstein. “When he is home, he waves and we exchange hellos. He is a very private person.”

According to the J.E. Austin Web site, Weinstein has 25 years of experience in international development, particularly in banking and private enterprise. He has a doctorate from Columbia University and is proficient in six languages, the site said.

U.S.-Pakistan tensions have sharpened following the January shooting in Lahore and the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden. In recent months, the Pakistani government and military have sought to reduce the number of U.S. officials working in Pakistan, as well as to restrict the movements of U.S. diplomats and other foreign workers.

Sahi, a special correspondent, reported from Lahore. Staff writer Kimberly Kindy and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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