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April 27, 2015

Uzbek kidnappers of Weinstein in Pakistani custody


April 27, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities had arrested two Uzbek kidnappers of the slain American hostage, Warren Weinstein, way back in July 2013. However the kidnappers told their interrogators that they had already sold out the USAID executive to al-Qaeda.
Warren Weinstein, 73, was kidnapped from his Model Town residence in Lahore on August 13, 2011 and killed on January 15, 2015 in a US drone attack in the Shawal area of North Waziristan where he was being held by his al-Qaeda captors. According to some well-informed counter terrorism officials, the abduction of Weinstein, the Pakistan country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a development contractor for the American government, was masterminded by two al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-linked Uzbek brothers - Mohammad Ali Uzbek and Naimatullah Uzbek - who belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
The IMU is an al-Qaeda-linked Uzbek terrorist group which is headquartered in the Waziristan region on the Pak-Afghan border. On April 2, 2015, the IMU had declared allegiance to the Islamic State led by Abu Bakar Baghdadi, saying that it has not heard from the elusive Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Omar for 13 years.
Both the Uzbek brothers arrested by the Pakistani authorities are believed to be the relatives of Tahir Yuldashev, the former IMU leader killed in a CIA drone strike in the Pakistani tribal regions in 2009.
The initial lead that traced the Weinstein kidnapping to the IMU came from another high profile kidnapping in Lahore which took place two weeks after Warren Weinstein’s abduction. Shahbaz Taseer, the younger son of Salman Taseer, was kidnapped on August 26, 2011. At the scene of Taseer’s kidnapping, one of the kidnappers dropped a cell phone and SIM card that eventually led the Pakistani intelligence agencies to focus on the network of International Movement of Uzbekistan in Lahore and trace out the two Uzbek brothers who were part of a gang of professional kidnappers.

Punjab police subsequently arrested two Uzbeks and four Pakistanis who were part of the IMU cell that had carried out the Weinstein kidnapping. Members of the IMU cell told Pakistani interrogators that after they had kidnapped Weinstein, they moved him (while he was tranquilised and semi-conscious) among three safe houses in Lahore.
They eventually took Weinstein to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) along the border with Afghanistan where al-Qaeda and other militant groups have their headquarters. There, Warren Weinstein was finally sold to al-Qaeda, which was very much interested in his custody because he was an American Jew just like the slain American journalist, Daniel Pearl.
It is largely believed that before handing him over to al-Qaeda, his Uzbek kidnappers had pocketed $250,000 as ransom money from his family for the sake of his release. But they backed out from their deal at the eleventh hour and sold him out to al-Qaeda, thus making money from both the deals. The $250,000 ransom money had been handed over to al-Qaeda abductors on his family’s behalf by the Pakistani intermediary in the form of $100 bills in 2012 in Peshawar about a year after his capture. The heartlessness of Weinstein’s al-Qaeda captors can be gauged from the fact that even after his death in a US drone attack; they kept negotiating with his family through the intermediary just to ensure that they get the ransom money.
Giving details of those arrested in connection with three high-profile kidnappings of Warren Weinstein, Shahbaz Taseer and Ali Haider Gilani (Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son), a senior counter-terrorism official said that the two Uzbek brothers had masterminded all the three abductions. The CIA Lahore had actually arrested five terror suspects in July 2013 for their involvement in the kidnapping of Ali Haider Gilani and Shahbaz Taseer. The arrested terrorists were identified as Mohammad Ali Uzbek, Naimatullah Uzbek, Farhad Butt, Usman Basra, and Abdul Rehman. The Uzbek brothers, who had genuine Pakistani passports and national identification cards, had at one stage demanded the release of 25 militants (all Pakistanis except eight Afghans) and Rs4 billion as ransom for the release of Ali Haider Gilani.
Ironically, Mumtaz Qadri, the Elite Force guard of the Punjab Police who had gunned down Salman Taseer in Islamabad for supporting a death row blasphemy accused, Aasia Bibi, topped the list. However, the deal could not be finalised because the security agencies were not ready to release any of the 25 terrorists who are linked with al-Qaeda and Taliban. Of the eight Afghan militants whose names were mentioned in the list by the abductors, three have already been released by Pakistani authorities. They are Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the younger brother of late Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, Abdul Majid, the son of Qari Mujib, and Ahmadullah, the son of Hakimullah.
Shortly after the arrest of the Uzbek brothers, the Punjab police had arrested eight more persons who were involved in the kidnapping of Warren Weinstein including Saifur Rehman, a resident of Chak No 37, Pakpattan district and Hafiz Muhammad Imran alias Abbas, a resident of Sodhraan More, Gujranwala district. The two arrested accused had told investigators that they had rented a room in the Dogar Plaza near Thokar Niaz Baig, Lahore, where they kept Weinstein for three days after his kidnapping (from August 11 to August 13, 2011). Saif and Imran also confessed having done recce on the Model Town residence of Weinstein for two days before his kidnapping. They also took part in the abduction of the American national.
During the identification parade in the court of the Judicial Magistrate of Model Town, Syed Naeem Abbas, the security guards posted at Weinstein’s residence on the day of his kidnapping had only identified Hafiz Imran who was subsequently handed down three death sentences by an anti-terrorism court in Lahore on January 7, 2015. The Police had also nominated the fugitive al-Qaeda chief Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri as an accused in the abduction case. Hardly a week later, on January 15, 2015, Warren Weinstein was killed in a CIA-guided US drone strike in the Shawal area of North Waziristan, as announced by President Obama at a White House press conference on April 23, 2015.

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