Official says men are not terrorists

Pakistani faults ‘wide net’ investigation

By Shelley Murphy, Farah Stockman, and Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / May 18, 2010

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Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States said yesterday that three Pakistani men arrested in New England last week as part of the investigation into the attempted Times Square bombing do not appear to have any involvement in terrorism.

Husain Haqqani, who has been briefed by Pakistani officials, said that law enforcement cast a wide net during the investigation and that the three men were only taken into custody because alleged immigration violations were discovered while they were being questioned.

“For all we know, there will be no connection at the end of it,’’ Haqqani said during a telephone interview. “I’m a little critical of law enforcement who ran to the press first, because you can actually destroy people’s lives. So far, there is nothing that implies anything of a terrorist nature.’’

Pakistani officials are increasingly concerned about the plight of the three New England men who were swept up in the Times Square investigation. None have been criminally charged, though they are being held on alleged immigration violations.

Yesterday, Pakistan’s consul general in Boston, Barry Hoffman, visited one of the men, 27-year-old Aftab Ali Khan, at the Suffolk County House of Correction for about an hour and said, “He’s proclaiming his innocence.’’

During a telephone interview after the meeting, Hoffman said Khan told him he did not know Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-born former financial analyst from Bridgeport, Conn., charged with trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square on May 1.

“He’s quite frightened,’’ said Hoffman, adding that Khan speaks poor English and has not hired a lawyer or appeared in US Immigration Court yet. He said Khan asked him if he could arrange for him to eat halal food and have a visit from an imam.

Hoffman said he plans to meet with the other two men who were arrested. Pir D. Khan, 43, a taxi driver who was Aftab Khan’s roommate in Watertown, is being held at the Plymouth County House of Correction. Mohammad Shafiq Rahman, 33, a computer programmer, was arrested in Maine and is being held at the Cumberland County jail in Portland.

The FBI and federal prosecutors in New York and Boston declined to comment on the case yesterday.

Last week, US Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that investigators believe there is evidence that the three men provided money to Shahzad. But, he said investigators were trying to determine whether the men knew they were supplying funds for an act of terrorism that authorities allege was directed by the Pakistani Taliban.

Friends of Aftab Khan and Pir Khan said both men were married to American women and seemed to be living productive, ordinary lives until their arrest Thursday during a series of raids in the Northeast.

Aftab Khan worked at a US Army base in Kuwait as a civilian assisting with truck convoys before he came to the United States about eight months ago with plans to marry an American woman he had met who was living in Colorado, acquaintances said. He had a K-1 visa, which is granted to the fiance of an American citizen.

The woman agreed to “sponsor him as a fiance,’’ said Sayyed Jehan, who shared a first-floor apartment with Pir and Aftab Khan on Waverley Avenue in Watertown.

But, Aftab Khan moved to Watertown about six months ago after a break-up with the woman, Jehan said.

Aftab Khan married a 29-year-old woman in Cambridge last November. He listed his name as Aftab Ali, and his occupation as contractor on the marriage certificate. His wife, who could not be reached, listed her occupation as teacher.

Pir Khan has lived here for about 20 years and is an avid fan of the Red Sox and Patriots, according to his brother-in-law, Fida Muhammad.

Pir Khan was married by a justice of peace in Watertown in December 2008 to a woman from Lewiston, Maine, according to a copy of the marriage certificate.

Muhammad said yesterday outside his Watertown apartment that Pir Khan, co-owner of Swabi Cab company, sold his taxi medallion a couple of months ago for about $200,000 to buy a house for him and his wife in Maine.

He said that Khan’s 24-year-old wife is living in the house the couple bought in Maine. She also could not be reached for comment.

On Thursday, federal agents searched 39 Waverley Ave. in Watertown, where the Khans lived with Jehan. They also searched for evidence and questioned witnesses at two Mobil stations in Brookline where Aftab Khan worked as an attendant.

Muhammad said he has not spoken with Pir Khan since his arrest but hopes he will be released soon. He did not know if Khan has a lawyer.

Pakistan Embassy spokesman Nadeem Kiani said that no decision has been made on whether Pakistan will assist the three with obtaining legal counsel.

Haqqani said: “A wide net has to be cast. But we have to make a distinction between terrorists and people who in the course of an investigation have lapsed on other issues.’’

Dr. Saud Anwar, a Connecticut doctor who is in contact with a close friend of Shahzad’s, said the friend had never heard of any of the three men taken into custody in Watertown and Maine, so Anwar said he does not believe the three knew Shahzad well, if they knew him at all.

“I hope law enforcement agencies are well thought out with their strategy,’’ said Anwar, who is also president of the Pakistani American Public Affairs Committee. “Post 9/11, we went for a witch hunt, and we got to a point where law enforcement and community were on different frequencies. . . . My first feeling when I heard about what was going on, I thought we are going for a witch hunt of any Pakistani who has done anything wrong. . . . People feel alienated and they feel marginalized.’’

Bryan Bender of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Brock Parker contributed to this report.

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