LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Gunmen abducted an American after breaking into his house in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday in an unusually brazen raid that illustrated the threat to foreigners in this militancy-wracked, U.S.-allied country.
The U.S. Embassy identified the victim as Warren Weinstein. A man by that name serves as the Pakistan country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a development contractor that works with the aid arm of the American government, according to a profile on the LinkedIn networking website.
Pakistani police said the American was believed to be in his 60s, and had returned to Lahore the previous night from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. He had told his staff that would be wrapping up his latest project and moving out of Pakistan by Monday, police official Tajammal Hussain said.
The profile says Weinstein is based in Lahore and has been in Pakistan for seven years. Calls to the company headquarters in Virginia were not immediately answered, but its website describes Weinstein as a development expert with 25 years experience and a Ph.D. in international law and economics.
The company website says Weinstein headed a program that has been trying to help strengthen the competitiveness of various Pakistani industries.
"He's a short, funny man with a quick wit," said Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist who last saw Weinstein about a year ago and said the American could speak a fair amount of Urdu. "He's a very laid-back guy, not too worried about security issues, not really paranoid at all."
According to Pakistani police, two of the abductors showed up at Weinstein's house and persuaded the guards there to open the gate by saying they wanted to give them food — an act of sharing common during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started in August.
As the guards opened the gate, five other men suddenly appeared. The assailants, who were armed, punched and kicked the security guards, overpowering them before storming the house. Several more abductors were believed to have entered through the back of the residence.
The gunmen snatched the American from his bedroom, hustling him out of the house and into a nearby vehicle. They did not take any other items from the house, police official Attiqur Rehman said.
Police declined to speculate on the motive, and no group immediately claimed responsibility. Security forces are checking vehicles at posts on the outskirts of the city in hopes of finding Weinstein, said Ghulam Mahmood Dogar, a deputy inspector-general of police.
Kidnappings for ransom are common in Pakistan, with most of the victims being Pakistani. Criminal gangs are suspected in most of the abductions, but Islamist militant organizations, too, are believed to use the tactic to fund themselves through ransoms.
Militant groups also have targeted foreigners in Pakistan in other types of attacks, such as shootings or bombings. But it is rare for assailants to stage such a raid on a foreign victim's home.
The Pakistani Taliban claim to be holding a Swiss man and woman kidnapped earlier this summer as they were traveling through a remote southwestern region. The militant group, which is based in the northwest tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, has demanded that the U.S. free a Pakistani woman convicted of trying to kill Americans in exchange for the Swiss pair's freedom.
Americans in Pakistan are considered especially at risk from militant attack because the insurgents oppose Islamabad's alliance with Washington and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. U.S. diplomats, aid workers and others are urged to take strong security precautions.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad plummeted after an American CIA contractor in January shot dead two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him.
The American was held in a jail in Lahore for two months despite Washington's insistence he was immune from prosecution because he had diplomatic status. He was eventually freed after the victims' families were given compensation.
Lahore is the capital of the eastern Punjab province, a region bordering India that is home to several of Pakistan's top militant networks, some of which are suspected of ties to Pakistani intelligence. Major attacks in Lahore include a 2009 ambush of Sri Lanka's cricket team that killed six police and a driver.
The unilateral American raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden on May 2 in the northwest Pakistani town of Abbottabad further soured ties between the two countries and led to increased scrutiny on Americans living in Pakistan.
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for its citizens saying that American diplomats are facing increased harassment and they, along with aid workers and journalists, have been falsely identified as spies in the local media.
Still, American lawmakers and officials have made a slew of trips in recent weeks to try to maintain the relationship with Islamabad.
On Saturday, U.S. Sen. John McCain arrived in Islamabad and met with top officials including Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. In a statement afterward, Gilani said he told the Republican lawmaker that Pakistan desires an enduring partnership with the United States.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad contributed to this report.