Jeebus. What is to become of this country?
The family of a Pakistani journalist kidnapped in December said Thursday that they believe he could be in U.S. custody.
Hayatullah Khan was abducted at gunpoint in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region Dec. 5 by armed, masked men whom a witness at the time described as dressed like fighters from the ousted Taliban regime of Afghanistan. But Ihsanullah Khan, the victim’s brother, said that senior officials from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies had told the family that Hayatullah was now beyond their jurisdiction.
“We were told a few days ago that Mr. Khan was no longer in their possession. He might be somewhere in Pakistan or the United States being grilled for his possible links with Al Qaeda,” Ihsanullah Khan said, citing information passed to him by unnamed intelligence officials.
“Earlier these [officials] told us that Hayatullah was fine and we should not worry about him. But now they say that Hayatullah might be in U.S. officials’ custody,” he said.
Hayatullah Khan came to wide public attention when he reported allegations that a suspected Al Qaeda operative and four other people in the town of Asoray, including a 7-year-old boy, had been killed by a U.S. missile attack — not an accidental munitions explosion, as Pakistani officials had asserted.
Khan quoted local tribesmen as saying that the mud-brick compound where Egyptian Abu Hamza Rabia died Dec. 1 had been hit by an air-launched missile. He photographed metal fragments at the compound that appeared to bear markings identifying them as remnants of a U.S. laser-guided Hellfire missile. He was working for the European Pressphoto Agency and two Pakistani newspapers when he was kidnapped in the town of Mir Ali, which, like Asoray, is near the Afghan border.
Pakistani officials insisted that the compound had not been attacked. American counterterrorism operations in Pakistan are a matter of great sensitivity for the government of President Pervez Musharraf, whom some accuse of being too accommodating of U.S. interests.
Authorities say that Khan’s abduction was not related to any news report but rather sprang from a personal matter. His family said they have had no contact from his kidnappers.
Ihsanullah Khan said intelligence officials told him his brother “was being grilled by the U.S. to confirm the death of Hamza Rabia in the missile attack.”