ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An army officer and a businessman have been detained as part of a widening inquiry into a circle of Pakistanis who had some knowledge of the activities of the man charged with trying to set off a crude car bomb in Times Square, according to a Western official and an American intelligence official.
The army officer was arrested in Rawalpindi, the garrison city that serves as the headquarters of the Pakistani Army, the American intelligence official said. He appeared to have been disaffected, and his involvement with Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American charged with the failed bombing in New York, did not signal the involvement of the Pakistani Army in the attack, the intelligence official said.
The arrest of the officer, who holds the rank of major and whose name was not disclosed, and of Salman Ashraf Khan, 35, an executive of a catering company that organized functions for the American Embassy here, suggested the participation of a group of Pakistanis in helping Mr. Shahzad after he returned to Pakistan from the United States last year to plan the bombing, the officials said.
Several other Pakistani men have been arrested in the Islamabad area in connection with the case, according to a Pakistani intelligence official who did not offer details about the men’s backgrounds.
A senior Pakistani official said Friday that Mr. Khan and the army major were among several Pakistanis being questioned in connection with the Times Square case. Investigators were still sorting out exactly what role, if any, each individual played in helping Mr. Shahzad develop and plan the attack, the official said.
The arrest of the army major, which was first reported by The Los Angeles Times, raised questions of whether the Pakistani Army harbored some officers and soldiers sympathetic to the cause of the Pakistani Taliban, the militant group that Mr. Shahzad has told American investigators trained him for his bombing attempt. Mr. Shahzad has said he traveled to North Waziristan, a major base for the Pakistani Taliban, to prepare for the attack.
The Pakistani Army has conducted a series of offensives against the Pakistani Taliban in the past year, and the arrest of an officer for working surreptitiously against that policy would be considered an embarrassment for the army, which is the country’s most powerful institution.
The spokesman for the Pakistani Army denied earlier this week that an officer had been detained in the Times Square case. He said that an officer had been arrested because he had declined to fight, for religious reasons. Pakistani officials have been reluctant to discuss the Times Square bombing case, and when they have done so they have played down any involvement of the Pakistani Taliban, choosing instead to depict Mr. Shahzad as a lone operator. The nation’s premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, is in charge of the investigation of the case, Pakistani officials have said.
Like Mr. Shahzad, the catering executive, Mr. Khan, attended college in the United States. He appears to have been part of a loose network of middle-class, educated Pakistani men here in Islamabad, the capital, who assisted Mr. Shahzad in planning the Times Square attack.
The investigation and arrests in Islamabad appeared to concentrate on this informal network, which is suspected of having helped to recruit Pakistanis living abroad who wanted to return home to train for terrorist attacks, a Western official said. They appeared to be motivated by a strong belief in jihadist causes and a hatred of the West, the official said.
The network appears to have included Mr. Khan and a close friend, Ahmed Raza Khan, who, like Mr. Khan, was arrested in Islamabad on May 10, Mr. Khan’s father, Rana Ashraf Khan, said.
Mr. Shahzad is the son of a retired senior Pakistani Air Force officer, and it appeared that the arrested army major was an acquaintance of Mr. Shahzad’s father, according to a British terrorism expert, Sajjan Gohel, who is familiar with the investigation into the Times Square bombing.
The major may have helped Mr. Shahzad get in touch with the Pakistani Taliban and may have helped him travel to North Waziristan, Mr. Gohel said.
Mr. Khan’s arrest became public on Friday, after the United States Embassy warned American residents in Pakistan to avoid using his company, Hanif Rajput Caterers, because “terrorist groups may have established links” to it. The embassy sent an e-mail message with the warning and posted it on the embassy’s Web site.
Mr. Khan disappeared May 10, when he failed to arrive at the company headquarters after leaving his house in his car, his father, who is the company’s chief executive, said in an interview in Islamabad.
Mr. Khan graduated from the University of Houston in 2000, having majored in computer science, and then returned to Pakistan to work in the family’s catering business, his father said. Since graduating, he had not returned to the United States and he was married three years ago, his father said.
Rana Ashraf Khan described his son as religious, but “definitely not an extremist.” Asked if his son had negative feelings toward the United States, he said: “To be honest, yes. But that is common.”
“I am shocked,” he said of the accusation that his son was connected to the Times Square bombing, saying that his son had organized 900 catering events in the last six months, some for as many as 2,000 guests. The father said his son and his son’s wife lived with him in the family home in Islamabad.
Mr. Khan left the home for work at his usual time, about 11 a.m., on May 10, the father said. He never reached the office, according to the account. About noon, a man turned up outside the family’s house in Mr. Khan’s car, parked it and then left in a waiting taxi, the father said.
A dinner for 20 people, booked by a senior American diplomat for Saturday night, was suddenly canceled Friday by the United States Embassy, said Fahim Khan, the company’s sales manager. Until several years ago, when security at the embassy was tightened, the company catered the annual ball for the United States Marines, he said.
The notice circulated by the United States Embassy came two days after the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, and the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, arrived in Islamabad to share leads with the Pakistani government on the investigation into the Times Square case.
The elder Mr. Khan, who founded the catering company, said that despite frequent requests, the Pakistani authorities had refused to disclose his son’s whereabouts.
Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
May 21, 2010