Acquaintances in Chile describe Pakistani detainee as calm, gentle; police raid friend’s home

By Federico Quilodran, AP
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chile cops raid house of Embassy detainee’s friend

SANTIAGO, Chile — Police on Thursday searched the apartment of an Egyptian man who befriended a Pakistani national arrested with traces of bomb-making material at the U.S. Embassy.

Police made no official statements about the raid, but local news media reported that the Egyptian, who attended the same mosque as Mohammed Saif-ur-Rehman Khan, was inside the apartment and was being questioned as part of the investigation.

Khan, 28, is being held under Chile’s anti-terrorism laws while being investigated for alleged explosives violations. He was detained Monday after he was summoned to the embassy because his U.S. visa had been revoked and security equipment there detected explosive traces on his cell phone and papers.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.

Colleagues and acquaintances say Khan, 28, is a calm and gentlemanly man who doesn’t fit the popular image of a terrorist.

At Santiago’s EuroHotel, where Khan earned about $115 a month in a work-study position, workers said he didn’t dress luxuriously and had about three suits that he rotated. They were puzzled by the turn of events, which 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.

“He was a complete gentleman, very proper, like the gentlemen of old,” said Alex Garcia, head of the hotel’s reception and reservations.

“Someone who is a hotelier recognizes when another person knows the profession, and Khan knew it. He had a vocation for service and was very attentive,” said Garcia, adding that Khan seemed “tranquil, very correct and educated, speaking about five languages.”

Garcia said that Khan came to Chile in January to study Spanish and the hotel industry, information the Pakistani Embassy in Santiago confirmed in a statement Thursday.

Garcia worked with him daily for almost a month and was also his Spanish instructor.

Khan said he was born in Pakistan on Aug. 21, 1982, and told of being the son of a retired doctor and from a middle-class family, Garcia said.

“I think his father … must have sent him money,” Garcia said.

Mohammed Rumie, secretary-general of Chile’s Islamic community and spokesman for the As-Salam mosque, told The Associated Press 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 nonpolitical, but a minority jihadist stream embraces al-Qaida’s call for holy war against the West.

On Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to Chile, Paul Simon, said there was no indication that the embassy was the target of an attack.

Khan was detained nine days after Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen, allegedly tried to set off a bomb-laden SUV in Times Square after receiving training from the Taliban in Pakistan.

U.S. officials had decided to revoke Khan’s visa prior to the Times Square bombing, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

“This issue predates the Times Square incident and we are not aware of a connection between the two,” he said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. 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.

In its Thursday statement, the Pakistani Embassy said that Khan had been called to the U.S. Embassy “to have an interview regarding his documents, in particular his passport and his academic certifications.”

Khan “denied the accusations that he possessed explosive materials and the charges of links to terrorist organizations,” the statement said.

The statement also said that before coming to Chile, Khan spent a month visiting a brother who is studying for a doctorate at Michigan State University.

“The Embassy has not received any details regarding (criminal) charges or any solid evidence that establishes that Saifur Rehman (Khan) has any link with a terrorist organization or that he has the intention of committing a terrorist act at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago,” the statement added.

Pakistan’s ambassador to 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 Wednesday night.

Before being taken to jail after a court hearing 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.

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