Santiago: A Pakistani detained in Chile when detectors at the US embassy found traces of an explosives material is calm and gentlemanly and doesn`t fit the popular image of a terrorist, colleagues and acquaintances say.
Mohammed Saif-ur-Rehman Khan, 28, is being held under Chile`s anti-terrorism laws while being investigated for alleged explosives violations. He was detained on Monday after he was summoned to the embassy because his US visa had been revoked and security equipment there detected explosive traces on his cell phone and papers.
Authorities have not said what kind of explosives were allegedly involved, though the Chilean newspaper La Segunda reported the substance detected was Tetryl, a compound used to increase the explosive power of TNT.
Khan`s arrest came just over a week after the failed car bomb attempt in New York`s Times Square that has been blamed on a Pakistani man. US officials in Washington do not believe there is any link between the two, and say Khan`s visa was revoked before the Times Square incident.
Colleagues at the EuroHotel, where Khan worked as a paid intern, are puzzled by the turn of events.
"He was a complete gentleman, very proper, like the gentlemen of old," said Alex Garcia, head of reception and reservations.
Garcia said Khan came to Chile in January to study Spanish and the hotel industry. He worked with Khan daily for almost a month and was also his Spanish instructor.
Khan said he was born in Pakistan on August 21, 1982, and told of being the son of a retired doctor and from a middle class family, Garcia said.
He described Khan as "tranquil, very correct and educated, speaking about five languages."
"Someone who is an hotelier recognises when another person knows the profession, and Khan knew it. He had a vocation for service and was very attentive," Garcia said.
Other people who knew Khan in Chile also said they were surprised Khan was detained.
"He wasn`t the image of a terrorist. He was friendly and very respectful," said the owner of the student residence where Khan was staying. The owner would give only his first name, Gonzalo.
"He was a calm person who didn`t speak a lot because his Spanish wasn`t always very clear. In the kitchen, he shared with everyone," Gonzalo said.
Investigators in white hazardous-materials suits have searched Khan`s apartment in the student residence in downtown Santiago. There were no immediate reports on what they found.
Gonzalo said Khan once told him that he had lived a few months in the United States and that his trip to Chile was to learn Spanish.
Khan paid 80,000 pesos (USD 150) a month to stay in the residence, and his work study position with the hotel paid him about USD 115 a month.
The head receptionist at the EuroHotel said Khan didn`t dress luxuriously and had about three suits that he rotated.
"I think his father, who apparently is a retired doctor, must have sent him money," Garcia said.
Mohammed Rumie, secretary general of the Chile`s Islamic community and spokesman for the As-Salam mosque, said that Khan "came every Friday to the mosque, like all Muslims”.
"He didn`t appear a conflictive or problematic person — quite the opposite, he was very silent, very calm," Rumie said.
Asked about reports that Khan belonged to Islam`s Salafi movement, Rumie said he did not know where the reports had come from and that his As-Salam mosque doesn`t adhere to such movements.
The Salafi movement preaches an ultraconservative Islam similar to Saudi Arabia`s Wahhabi strain, strictly segregating the sexes and interpreting religious texts literally. Salafis tend to be non-political, but a minority jihadist stream embraces al Qaeda`s call for holy war against the West.
On Tuesday, the US Ambassador to Chile, Paul Simon, said there was not any indication that the embassy was a target of an attack.
Khan was detained nine days after Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistan-born US citizen, allegedly tried to set off a bomb-laden SUV in Times Square after receiving training from the Taliban in Pakistan.
In Washington, the State Department spokesman, PJ Crowley, said the US government will cooperate fully with the Chilean investigation into Khan.
"There were solid grounds for apprehending him and he will be charged under Chilean laws," Crowley said.
Pakistan Ambassador`s in Chile, Burhanul Islam, said he is willing to back Khan legally.
"He would have to be a very bad terrorist to enter the embassy with traces of explosive material, knowing that the embassy is a dangerous place where he would face serious accusations if he were caught," the ambassador said on Wednesday night.
Chilean state television reported, citing unidentified sources in the investigation, that police were looking for an Egyptian citizen who had contact with Khan and went to the same mosque.
Before being taken to jail after a court hearing on Tuesday, Khan was driven for a medical checkup and was able to briefly speak to reporters from a window of the police vehicle.
"No, I am not a terrorist. I do not have nothing to do with bombs, I am a working man," he said in heavily accented English.