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Pakistan quizzes suspects over abducted American

Police and security officials gather outside the residence of an American citizen after he was kidnapped in Lahore
Police and security officials gather outside the residence of an American citizen after he was kidnapped in Lahore

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani police have detained a number of people for questioning in connection with the kidnapping of an American development expert in the eastern city of Lahore, investigators said on Sunday.

In a pre-dawn raid on Saturday, six to eight assailants broke into the house of the man, identified by the U.S. State Department as Warren Weinstein, and abducted him after overpowering security guards.

"We have detained a few people for questioning, including guards posted at the house," Lahore police chief Ahmed Raza Tahir told Reuters.

"We hope to recover him soon," he added, without giving further details.

U.S. embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said they had not yet been informed about any progress in the case. "Police are investigating. We are waiting."

No one claimed responsibility for the abduction.

Kidnapping for ransom is relatively common in Pakistan, although foreigners are not often targets. Militants also occasionally take foreigners hostage but these incidents have taken place in the volatile western regions bordering Afghanistan, where Islamist insurgents are very active.

Weinstein has been identified as working for J.E. Austin & Associates, an Arlington, Virginia-based consulting firm, on a development project in lawless tribal areas where Pakistani troops have been battling Islamist insurgents for years.

Police said the gunmen barged into house on the pretext of sharing a meal with the guards, a common practice during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which started early this month. The attackers then forced Weinstein's driver to knock on his bedroom door. When he opened it, they took him.

The victim, in his 60s, had been living in Pakistan for five to six years, according to police. He mostly lived in Islamabad but had been traveling to Lahore.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States have sharply deteriorated since January, when a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, and worsened after U.S. Navy SEALS killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a raid in northwestern Pakistan that Islamabad termed a breach of its sovereignty.

Pakistani Taliban, linked to al Qaeda, have claimed responsibility for kidnapping a Swiss couple in July in the volatile southwestern province of Baluchistan.

Eight Pakistani employees of a U.S.-based aid organization, American Refugee Committee (ARC), were kidnapped in Baluchistan last month.

(Additional reporting and writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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