Six held in Pakistan over failed Times Square bombing

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The Independent Online

A Pakistani who was detained in connection with the failed car bombing in New York's Times Square had no ties with the main suspect but may have met him, the arrested man's father said today.

The attempted bombing on May 1 has revived international fears about Pakistan, a US ally in the campaign against militancy, being a breeding ground for Islamist violence.

Pakistan has detained at least six people suspected of ties with the failed bomb, including one who worked for a catering company servicing embassies, Salman Ashraf, a security official said.

His father, Mohammad Ashraf Khan, who co-owns Hanif Rajput Catering Service, said his son had no relations with the Times Square suspect, Faisal Shahzad, and any ties with "such people" would badly affect the business.

"He might have met him at a function but he doesn't have any relations with him," said Khan. "He hardly finds time for socialising. He has been too busy with his business."

US authorities say Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, has admitted to the failed Times Square bomb attack and has been cooperating with investigators since his arrest on May 3.

American and Pakistani authorities are likely scrambling for clues on whether those detained have ties to militants in Pakistan, who are bent on toppling the state and are violently opposed to the US presence here.

The United States is convinced Pakistan Taliban militants allied with al Qaeda and operating out of northwestern border regions were behind the attempted New York bombing.

The US embassy in Pakistan issued a warning to US government personnel and American citizens yesterday about the catering company, saying it may have terrorist links.

It provides services to top-flight functions in the capital, including embassy receptions.

A security official said those detained also included the employee of a mobile phone company and an owner of a computer shop in Islamabad. Norwegian mobile operator Telenor said one of its staff at its Pakistani unit had been detained by Pakistani authorities over the bomb plot.

A Pakistani security official said Shahzad and Ashraf are friends. "Faisal has lived in Ashraf's Islamabad house for some time," said the official.

"We are investigating whether Ashraf has provided any financial support to Faisal because Ashraf and his father are rich people and they run a very big catering business."

Another security official was more cautious.

"They may be innocent because being friends does not mean you are involved in the activities of your friends," said the official. Six people had been detained, he said. Several other people were detained earlier and then released.

"He was not religious. He didn't attend Friday prayers regularly," said Ashraf's neighbours.

Another official said one of the people detained was identified as Ahmed Raza and was Ashraf's friend and business partner. He also runs his own catering service.

Shoaib Mughal, said to run a big computer business in Islamabad, is also being held, said an official.

"He was picked up about two weeks ago and was believed to have phoned Faisal (Shahzad) to tell him to return home after the Times Square incident," said the official.