Maine detainee said he knew bomb suspect

Posted May 14, 2010, at 2:12 p.m.

BOSTON, Mass. — Three Pakistani men arrested in the widening investigation of the Times Square bomb include a Boston-area cab driver, a gas station attendant and a computer programmer in Maine who told his boss that he knew the primary suspect, Faisal Shahzad, but hadn’t spoken to him in years. In Pakistan, authorities took into custody two other men on suspicion of helping to finance the failed plot.

On Thursday, authorities following the money trail in the failed attack conducted raids in several places in the Northeast and arrested three men. The two men arrested in the Boston area were Pir Khan, 43, and Aftab Khan, a man in his 20s, law enforcement officials said. A third man, Mohamad Rahman, was arrested in Maine, according to one of the officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Authorities said the three supplied funds to Shahzad but may not have known how the money would be used. They were arrested on immigration violations, not criminal charges. All three are in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said agency spokeswoman Kelly Nantel.

Pakistan also has at least two men in custody on suspicion of helping to finance the Times Square bombing attempt, a senior U.S. military official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press to discuss the sensitive issue of Pakistani cooperation in the probe. It is not clear whether the two are members of the Pakistani Taliban, which U.S. authorities say was behind the plot.

Meanwhile, a federal law enforcement official told the AP on Friday that Shahzad has told investigators he received money at a meeting in a Dunkin’ Donuts off a Long Island Rail Road stop before the May 1 bombing attempt. Authorities retrieved surveillance video from the shop in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., based on Shahzad’s information, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official declined to say who Shahzad met with, how much money was exchanged or whether the video proved useful. The timing of the meeting wasn’t specified, although the doughnut shop has been closed for renovations since April 20.

Dunkin’ Brands Inc. spokeswoman Michelle King said Friday the franchisee has turned over 30 days worth of video to the FBI.

Rahman, the man detained in Maine, is a computer programmer who has worked since August for Artist and Craftsman Supply, which has 15 stores from Portland to Los Angeles. Rahman was creating computer programs to automate the receipt of inventory from vendors.

Larry Adlerstein, the Portland-based company’s owner, said he asked Rahman a few days ago about what it felt like to be from Pakistan since the Times Square attempted bombing arrest.

“He said, ‘I know the fellow who they claim is responsible for the attempted bomb in Times Square. I haven’t seen him for eight or nine years. He was a simple, uncomplicated person with no strong ideas. Maybe that’s what these terrorist organizations want, someone who’s a blank slate,”’ Adlerstein recalled.

FBI agents told Adlerstein that Rahman was being detained on a visa violation and wouldn’t be available to work for an indefinite period.

Maureen Renner, who was in charge of computers for the company, said she socialized occasionally with Rahman and found “he had a deep faith, but it was not a political bent.”

“He had told me he left New York because he found 9-11 so disturbing,” Renner said.

Adlerstein said Rahman was recently married and his wife was upset because she didn’t know where Rahman had been taken.

“She kept saying wonderfully affectionate things about her husband. She knows he’s not involved in terrorism, and that he’s the best man she’s ever known,” Adlerstein said.

Adlerstein said he had no qualms about Rahman, even after the FBI’s visit.

Pir Khan, the cab driver, and Aftab Khan, the gas station attendant, both lived in an apartment in the Boston suburb of Watertown that was raided Thursday. No one answered the door of the home Friday.

Naseer Khan, who lives in Cambridge and is a former roommate of Pir Khan who is not related to him, said Pir Khan came to the United States about 20 years ago and often worked two jobs to send money back to his wife and teenage son in Pakistan. He said Pir Khan never expressed any radical views or hatred toward America.

“He’s a very, very good person and a very hardworking person,” he said.

“There is a big misunderstanding about him. I am sure he was not involved in terrorism. He is not that kind of person.”

Pir Khan worshipped Friday afternoons at the Allston Brighton Islamic Center, where he would drive his cab to services. Haroon Khan, the center’s director of community affairs, said he considered Khan innocent of wrongdoing and that his arrest seemed troubling and arbitrary.

“Tomorrow, this can happen to me. It can happen to anyone, so we have to wake up,” Khan said. “He was just a regular guy like me and this happened to him. So it can happen to you.”

Baij Joshi, who manages the two-family Watertown home where Pir Khan and Aftab Khan lived, said they began renting the first-floor apartment four or five years ago. He said he was told that the two men and a third man who lived with them are all related.

“What my impression from them is that they were hardworking people. They go to work; they come home from work. They seemed like respectful people, just decent people,” Joshi said.

Pir Khan’s name was on the lease, and the men always paid the $1,100 rent on time every month, Joshi said. They usually paid with a check, but this month, Pir Khan gave him $1,100 in cash, saying he had run out of checks and was waiting for his new ones to arrive in the mail.

Joshi said the only complaint he ever got about the men was that they sometimes kept too many cars and would work on them in the driveway.

Raeel Khan of Newton said he and Pir Khan, who are not related, are both cab drivers with the Allston, Mass.-based Metro Cab company.

“I’ve never seen him in any kind of trouble, and I can’t believe that he would be connected to this,” said Raeel Khan. “I think everyone has to hold their breath and wait until all the facts come out.”

Anne Gearan, Eileen Sullivan and Pete Yost in Washington; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Russ Contreras in Boston; Tom Hays in New York; and Frank Eltman in Garden City, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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