Chile cops raid house of Embassy detainee’s friend
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – Police spent hours Thursday searching the apartment of an Egyptian man who was friendly with a Pakistani national arrested at the U.S. Embassy as part of a terrorism investigation.
Officers dressed head-to-toe in white anti-contamination suits carried out a computer, compact discs, an agenda and a cellular phone, police said. The Egyptian man who reportedly befriended Mohammed Saifur Rehman Khan at a Santiago mosque wasn’t seen by reporters outside, and police released no information about him.
Khan, 28, is being held for a week under Chile’s anti-terrorism laws while being investigated for alleged explosives violations. He was summoned to the embassy Monday because his U.S. visa had been revoked, and arrested after security equipment detected traces of explosives on cell phone and papers.
Authorities have not publicly identified the explosive, but the Chilean newspaper La Segunda reported it was Tetryl, a compound used to increase the explosive power of TNT. Police in white suits also took away Khan’s computer earlier this week.
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.”
Khan came to Chile in January to study Spanish and the hotel industry after staying with his brother, a doctoral student at Michigan State University, for a month last year, according to the Pakistani Embassy.
“We have many questions and few answers,” said Pakistani Ambassador Burhanul Islam, who promised legal and consular support to Khan.
Khan’s public defender, Francisco Geisse, said that evidence thus far “doesn’t show the existence of a crime.”
In Santiago, Garcia worked with Khan 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.
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. But by then, the U.S. had already decided to revoke Khan’s visa, 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 of Khan.
“There were solid grounds for apprehending him and he will be charged under Chilean laws,” Crowley said.
The Pakistani Embassy said 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 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.
“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,” Islam said.
Khan briefly spoke to reporters through the window of a police vehicle before he was taken to the high-security prison where he is being held under Chile’s anti-terrorism law. “No, I am not a terrorist. I do not have nothing to do with bombs. I am a working man,” he said in strongly accented English.