Pakistani man rides his bicycle past the house of kidnapped American Warren Weinstein in Lahore, Pakistan. Photo by Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images.
The August kidnapping of Warren Weinstein, an American aid worker in Pakistan, came into the spotlight again this week when al-Qaida announced it has him in custody. His abduction is nothing new in the security-challenged country and marks a growing trend in the way militants try to make money, a Pakistani specialist said.
Weinstein, 70, was working for J.E. Austin Associates Inc., a business consulting firm based in Arlington, Va., at the time of his abduction from his Lahore, Pakistan, home last summer. In a video-taped message posted this week on militant websites, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri claimed the terror network had him.
Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a Pakistan native, told us it’s not the first time a foreigner has been kidnapped in the country. “It’s become quite commonplace, unfortunately,” he said.
The U.S. State Department warns travelers on its website: “Terrorists and their sympathizers regularly attack civilian, government, and foreign targets, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province” in the northwest, bordering Afghanistan.
What usually happens is a local criminal gang will conduct the kidnapping, after getting the household staff on their side, said Yusuf. The gang members then will sell the abductee to another larger gang, and eventually — as in Warren’s case — the person will end up in the hands of either al-Qaida or the Pakistani Taliban, he said.
It shows the problems with security in Pakistan and that militants have found a fruitful mechanism for making money, he noted. “This has really worked well for them, quite frankly.”
Usually victims are released for ransom. In Warren’s case, al-Zawahri had a number of other demands, including the end to U.S. drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan. That demand — an impossible one in the current war on terrorism — might be aimed at making al-Qaida more popular within a country angered by the use of American drones, which residents say counteracts their sovereignty, according to Yusuf.
In addition to a ransom, militant groups seek the release of their members. The kidnappers of two Swiss tourists, nabbed as they were traveling in Pakistan over the summer, are calling for the release of Aafia Siddiqui. Siddiqui is in an American jail for trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Foreigners are often the targets of kidnapping, because of the international exposure, and it gives the militants the appearance of control, Yusuf said.