WYSO

Kidnapped American's Fate Still A Mystery

Aug 20, 2011
Originally published on August 20, 2011 6:51 pm

Just 48 hours before he was due to leave the country, American international aid expert Warren Weinstein was kidnapped in Pakistan's Punjab province. It's been more than a week since the abduction, and Weinstein's whereabouts are still unknown.

The law minister of Punjab says he believes militants are behind Weinstein's abduction, but senior police investigators in the eastern city of Lahore don't go that far. They say it's still early, and they're cautiously optimistic that Weinstein will be found safe.

Weinstein was abducted in the early morning hours. His kidnappers staged a diversion at the front gate, offering food to the guards on duty, while five masked gunmen scaled a five-foot wall in the rear and overwhelmed Weinstein's guards from behind.

They stole into the house, snatched Weinstein and fled — all in about seven minutes, according to Lahore's senior superintendent of investigations, Razaq Cheema, who called it a "highly organized kidnapping."

On the grounds of Weinstein's cavernous house, police are guarding what is now a crime scene. There is scant evidence of a struggle, but clear signs that Weinstein's captors were willing to use force.

Up the winding stairway, where the captors would have run, mud and small droplets of dried blood are smudged into the marble. The police say Weinstein was pistol-whipped as he was taken by his kidnappers.

The rooms of Weinstein's house in the posh Modeltown neighborhood of Lahore suggest someone absorbed in his work; files lines the floors and stacks of papers cover a kitchen table. Police say they found calendars with the date Aug. 15 circled in red and the days leading up to it crossed out — Weinstein was to have left Pakistan on that date. Stale peanuts gather dust on a coffee table and pictures of happy children adorn the walls — quite a few of them.

Weinstein is said to have lived in Pakistan at least six years, working with J.E. Austin, an international development consulting firm based in Virginia. Weinstein is reputed in the industry to be a veteran of development aid, which is what he was doing in Pakistan, according to the company.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah says no local gang in the kidnapping racket could have pulled off Weinstein's abduction — it was too well orchestrated.

"No local criminal group is strong enough to do such acts," Sanaullah says. "These are the Taliban — you can say Pakistani Taliban, or other Taliban. They are the persons."

Sanaullah has said — not without controversy — that he believes the American aid expert was secretly working on behalf of the United States. The law minister says he has no concrete evidence to support that, but he insists that Weinstein's refusal to have a police escort when he traveled — or a government guard posted at his home — somehow makes him suspicious. He compares Weinstein with Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who put U.S.-Pakistan relations on a downward slide last January when he killed two men on a busy Lahore street.

Americans regard the insinuation that Weinstein was connected to the CIA as totally baseless. Usman Khan, who lectures on economics at Lahore University of Management Sciences, worked with Weinstein on private sector development in the Punjab. Like many in the aid field, Kahn says, Weinstein sought to keep a low profile but was not daunted by the local security conditions, especially since he'd lived in the country so long.

"His favorite quote would have been, 'It's just being at the wrong place at the wrong time,'" Kahn says. "He said any local is equally facing danger as he is. He always looked very comfortable with what he was doing and the way he was doing it."

Investigators are holding Weinstein's driver for questioning. The man, who goes by the name Israr, is from the district of Swabi in the militant-infiltrated Northwest Frontier Province. It was his familiar voice that convinced Weinstein to open the door last Saturday morning — allowing his abductors to swoop in. Sanaullah suspects the kidnappers knew that the driver would be the key to unlocking the door.

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

In Pakistan last week, American international aid expert Warren Weinstein was kidnapped just 48 hours before he was due to leave the country. The law minister of the Punjab says he believes it's the work of local militants. Senior police investigators in the eastern city of Lahore, however, say that these are still early days but they're cautiously optimistic that the American will be safely recovered. NPR's Julie McCarthy visited the scene of the abduction in Lahore and has this report.

JULIE MCCARTHY: I'm here inside the gate on the grounds of Warren Weinstein's cavernous house. Weinstein was abducted last Saturday in the early morning hours. His kidnappers scaled a five-foot wall in the rear and overwhelmed the guards in the front. They stole into the house, snatched Weinstein, and fled, all in about seven minutes, according to the Senior Superintendent of Investigations in Lahore, Abdul Razaq Cheema, who called it a highly organized kidnapping. Police guarding what is now a crime scene show us inside.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

MCCARTHY: There is scant evidence of a struggle but clear signs that Weinstein's captors were willing to use force. We're walking up the stairs where the captors would have run. There is mud on the floor and what looks to be small trailings of blood. The police say Warren Weinstein was pistol-whipped as he was taken by his kidnappers.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

MCCARTHY: And we've just entered what would be the living quarters of Mr. Weinstein. The rooms suggest someone absorbed in his work. Stacks of papers cover a kitchen table, files line the floors. Police say they found calendars with the date August 15th circled in red - the days leading up to it Xed out. Weinstein was to have left Pakistan on Monday the 15th. Stale peanuts gather dust on a coffee table. Pictures of happy children adorn the walls, presumably Warren Weinstein's family. Warren Weinstein was said to have lived in Pakistan at least six years working with J.E. Austin, an international development consulting firm. And Mr. Weinstein was reputed in the industry as a veteran of development aid, which is what he was doing here in Pakistan according to the company. The Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah says that no local gang in the kidnapping racket could have pulled off Weinstein's abduction - Rather he points the finger at militants but no specific group.

RANA SANAULLAH: No local criminal group is strong enough to do such acts. These are the - you can say them Taliban, you can say them Pakistani Taliban or other Taliban - they are the persons.

MCCARTHY: Because it was so well organized, you're saying.

SANAULLAH: Yes.

MCCARTHY: The Punjab Law Minister has said, not without controversy, that he believes the American aid expert was secretly working on behalf of the United States. Sanaullah says he has no concrete evidence to support that, but he insists that Weinstein's refusal to have a police escort when he traveled or a government guard posted at his home somehow makes him suspicious. He compares Weinstein with Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who put U.S.-Pakistan relations on a downward slide last January when he killed two men on a busy Lahore street. The Americans regard the insinuation that Weinstein was connected to the CIA as totally baseless. Usman Khan, who lectures on economics at Lahore University of Management Sciences, worked with Weinstein on private sector development in the Punjab. He says like many in his field, Warren Weinstein sought to keep a low profile but was not daunted by the local security conditions.

USMAN KHAN: Basically, I think his favorite quote would have been it's just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. So, he said that, you know, any local is equally facing danger as he is. He always looked sort of very comfortable with what he was doing and the way he was doing it.

MCCARTHY: Investigators are holding Weinstein's driver for questioning. The man who goes by the name Israr is from the district of Swabi in the militant-infiltrated North-West Frontier. It was his familiar voice that convinced Weinstein to open the door last Saturday morning, which allowed his abductors to swoop in. Punjab Law Minister Sanaullah suspects the kidnappers knew that the driver Israr would be the key to unlocking the door. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Lahore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.