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In Pakistani Village With Ties To Times Square Suspect's Family; Shock, Disbelief

Faisal Shahzad, the man arrested yesterday in connection with the attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square on Saturday, is a 30-year-old Pakistani who became a U.S. citizen last year.

NPR photo journalist John Poole (those are his photos above) and producer Tom Bullock are on assignment in Pakistan and today visited the village where Shahzad's father lived as a boy and where the family still has a home.

By John Poole

Mohib Banda is a farming village outside Peshawar, about three miles north of the ancient Grand Trunk Road that stretches across India, Pakistan and on to Afghanistan. It feels far removed from Times Square and the American way of life.

Oxen, donkeys, horses, cows and a group of camels laden with hay were on the village's main street today, which was also populated by curious children and farmers coming home from their fields. This is flat country where wheat is grown and livestock are raised. According to locals, the village's population is in the hundreds.

Outside of the home that we were told still belongs to Shahzad's family, even though his father left the village about 40 years ago, there was a gaggle of townspeople and a handful of reporters. As Pakistan's DAWN Media Group reports today, word of Shahzad's arrest has shaken many in the village and they are curious about what it all means:

"We were shocked, why did he do this?" said resident Aziz Khan after news spread like wildfire through Mohib Banda. ... "Our village is very liberal. We fear it will be targeted now by security forces."

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No one was at the house. It's a walled-in structure; fronted by tall, padlocked wooden gates. A rickshaw stand next door has a bold, red sign advertising Mecca Cola.

Faiz Ahmed, a former mayor of the town and a friend of Shahzad's father, told us that the home's caretaker had left this morning and not yet returned. Asked about the news regarding Shahzad, he called it "a tragedy for me and every Pakistani," as well as for the local Pashtun people.

Ahmed said had not seen Shahzad in about 18 months, since the young man visited family in Peshawar. Shahzad's father, identified by Reuters as a retired air vice marshal in the Pakistani military, and some other family members live in Peshawar.

According to Ahmed, Shahzad's family is "secular and liberal." But he said the young man may have changed in recent years: "He began to grow a beard," which sometimes is seen here as a sign that a young man is embracing the views of Islamist radicals.

We did find a man who said he is a step-cousin of Shahzad's. Abrar-ul-Haq, described his relative as a good person, calm and "liberal-minded."

Others here remember Shahzad as well. Retired school teacher Nazirullah Khan, speaking to Reuters by telephone from the village, said he couldn't believe the news about Shahzad. "This is our son," he said, reflecting the close ties that are often felt in small, very traditional villages of Pakistan.

More from NPR's visit to Mohib Banda and reporting from NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad — who says that some Pakistanis think Shahzad may have been framed, even though U.S. officials say he had admitted his involvement — will be on today's edition of All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or webcasts the show. Later, the report will be posted here.