Pakistan Probes Network Ties To Times Square Plot

The Pakistani investigation of the Times Square bombing plot has uncovered what is being described as a network of people motivated by resentment toward the U.S. Among those arrested is a business executive from a well-established catering firm in Islamabad. He's been taken into custody as part of a widening circle of possible links with the chief suspect in the bombing attempt, Faisal Shahzad.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

In Pakistan, the investigation of the Times Square bombing plot has uncovered what's being described as a network of people motivated by resentment towards the United States. Among those arrested is a business executive from a prominent catering firm in Islamabad. He's been taken into custody as part of a widening circle of possible links with the chief suspect in the bombing attempt, Faisal Shahzad.

NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us now from Islamabad. Good morning, Julie.

JULIE McCARTHY: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So we're talking about a network of people that were being used by investigators. What do they mean by that?

McCARTHY: Well, it's a loose network, that's the word used, according to a senior Pakistani official who is directly involved with this investigation. Apparently, all but a few of this group is described as knowing Faisal Shahzad, but not everybody knows each other.

They're said to be motivated by what the official called, quote, unquote, "hatred of the United States and American policies in the region." These individuals, they're not active in religious parties and they're not poor people. They're financially well-off.

Under interrogation, nobody's confessing to helping Faisal Shahzad, but the detainees have specifically expressed anger at the United States and what they called interference in Pakistan's affairs.

Now, that said, David, there are many in Pakistan who share that attitude. It doesn't make them co-conspirators in a crime. And how this quote-unquote "network" fits into this broader puzzle in this plot is still a very open-ended question. But it does raise the idea of how some privileged here hold their own radical views.

GREENE: And how many people are we talking about? How many are in custody?

McCARTHY: Well, the officials say a total of 14 people have been detained in various cities, including Islamabad. Salman Ashraf Khan, he's a 35-year-old executive from this upscale catering service, he's been taken into custody.

And on Friday, the U.S. embassy posted a warning to American citizens about his company. The website that the embassy runs warns that the company - which is named the Hanif Rajput Catering Service - was suspected of having links with terrorist groups and said American diplomats had been instructed to stop using the firm. Now, the Hanif Rajput caterers are popular among foreign embassies and wealthy people.

The father of this detained catering executive, Rana Ashraf Khan, says he's baffled by the accusations against his son. He said he's gone to school in the United States, lived happily there. The father actually filed a missing person report when his son didn't show up for work on May 10th. Two weeks later, he says he still doesn't know where his son is. And here's what he had to say, David, in a phone interview that we did last night.

Mr. RANA ASHRAF KHAN (CEO, Hanif Rajput Catering Service): The police have been unable to give me any lead whatsoever, whosoever is responsible. They are causing harassment. They are causing terror, in fact. For me, those people who picked him up are the terrorists. And I think that is the last word I can use.

McCARTHY: So Rana Ashraf says since last October his son had organized something in the order of 900 events. And he said, how can somebody who's so involved in his business possibly get involved in some horrible, criminal plot.

GREENE: So we're talking about this business executive, this catering executive who's been picked up. Really briefly, Julie, who else of interest have investigators detained at this point?

McCARTHY: Well, according to sources here, there is an army major who has been picked up. Now, that doesn't signal that the involvement of the Pakistani army or any other military personnel had knowledge of this bombing plot. But according to the Pakistani sources, telephone records show that this army major, now retired, actually spoke with Shahzad on May 1st, the day of the attempted bombing.

GREENE: That's the voice of NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad.

Julie, thank you.

McCARTHY: Thank you.

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GREENE: This is NPR News.

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