Islamabad: Authorities searched for clues about who kidnapped an American in Pakistan but came up with no leads after questioning the guards at his house when he was abducted, police said on Sunday.
Gunmen snatched development expert Warren Weinstein, 70, before dawn Saturday after tricking his guards and breaking into his house in the eastern city of Lahore, a brazen raid that heightened fears among aid workers, diplomats and other foreigners already worried about Islamic militancy and anti-US sentiment in Pakistan.
Weinstein is the country director for JE Austin Associates, a development contractor that has received millions of dollars from the aid arm of the US government, according to a profile on LinkedIn, a networking website. He had told his staff that he would be wrapping up his latest project and moving out of Pakistan by Monday, just a couple days after he was kidnapped.
Police were hoping the guards could shed some light on who targeted Weinstein but came up empty-handed, said Shoaib Khurram, a senior police official in Lahore.
"We do not yet have any concrete information that there was a specific threat," Khurram said.
Kidnappings for ransom are common in Pakistan, with foreigners being occasional targets. Criminal gangs are suspected in most abductions, but Islamic militants are also believed to use the tactic to raise money.
JE Austin Associates stressed Weinstein`s commitment to Pakistan`s economic development in a written statement and said he has worked with a wide range of Pakistani government agencies, including the Pakistan Furniture Development Company and the Pakistan Dairy Development Company.
"His efforts to help make Pakistani industries more competitive have resulted in many hundreds of well-paying jobs for Pakistani citizens and contributed to raising the standard of living in the communities where these businesses are located," it said.
The company also said Weinstein is in poor health and provided a detailed list of medications, many of them for heart problems, that it implored the kidnappers to provide the elderly development expert.
Shahab Khawaja, a former official at Pakistan`s Ministry of Industries and Production, said Weinstein has been working in Pakistan since 2004 and was scheduled to finish his contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on August 15. The two men, who are close friends, met in the capital, Islamabad, in recent days.
"I was shocked and deeply disturbed by his kidnapping," Khawaja said.
Police said Weinstein had returned to his home in Lahore on Friday evening from Islamabad.
According to police, two of the kidnappers showed up at Weinstein`s house Saturday and told the guards inside the gate of the walled compound that they wanted to give them food, an act of sharing common during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The guards opened the gate, and five other men suddenly appeared. The armed assailants overpowered the guards and stormed into the house. Some gunmen are believed to have entered through the back. They snatched the American from his bedroom but took nothing else.
Hussain Bhatti, who worked with Weinstein in Pakistan, said the American decided to replace the security company guarding his house in recent months because of general threats to US citizens working in Pakistan. But he did not know who would have targeted Weinstein.
Americans in Pakistan are considered especially at risk because militants oppose Islamabad`s alliance with Washington and the war in Afghanistan. The unilateral US raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden on May 02 in northwest Pakistan only added to tensions between the two countries.