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Embassy caterer among 6 Pakistanis held in NYC bomb plot

By Asif Shahzad and Kathy Gannon
Associated Press / May 22, 2010

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The co-owner of a catering company that organized events for the US Embassy is among six men detained by Pakistan for allegedly helping the failed Times Square bombing suspect, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said yesterday.

In a statement on its website, the embassy warned that the catering company was suspected of ties to terrorist groups and said American diplomats had been instructed to stop using the firm.

Like Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American accused in the failed New York bombing, the six Pakistani detainees were all members of their country’s urban elite, including several who were educated in the United States. One was a former Army major.

The suspects were part of a loose network motivated by hatred of America and the West, the Pakistani official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

One of the men often traveled to the tribal areas close to the Afghan border where US officials have said Shahzad received explosives training under the Pakistani Taliban, the official said.

At least two allegedly helped Shahzad with funding, the official and another Pakistani security officer said, although the exact nature of their link to the Times Square bombing suspect was still being investigated.

The co-owner of Hanif Rajput Catering Service, Salman Ashraf Khan, was recruited because two other suspects “wanted him to help bomb a big gathering of foreigners’’ whose event his company was catering, the Pakistani intelligence officer said.

He said a US tip led to the first arrest: a computer engineer, Shoaib Mughal, who runs a large computer dealership in Islamabad.

Mughal is accused of telephoning Shahzad soon after the failed May 1 bombing in New York’s Times Square and urging him to return to Pakistan. He also visited the Afghan border region several times to meet with top Taliban commanders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, and give them money, the official said.

In New York, two federal law enforcement officials close to the Times Square inquiry said yesterday that Shahzad told investigators he received financial support from the Pakistani Taliban for the attempted bombing.

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