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Confusion swirls over fate of kidnapped American Warren Weinstein

A Pakistani intelligence official denied reports Thursday that a kidnapped American development expert had been freed.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

A Pakistani intelligence official denied reports Thursday that a kidnapped American development expert had been freed, saying an early-morning rescue operation was unsuccessful.

Speaking to NBC News, a U.S. Embassy official also denied that Warren Weinstein, 70, had been released.

Earlier, police told reporters that Weinstein had been rescued in Khushab in Punjab province. Reuters, The Associated Press and local television channels reported the release.

However, a senior intelligence official in Punjab later told Reuters that Weinstein "has not been recovered yet."

He criticized Lahore's police chief for claiming that Weinstein had been freed, saying the comments jeopardized an intelligence operation to rescue him.

"There was an operation in the Khushab area this morning, but it was unsuccessful, as the captors moved away," the intelligence official said.

Weinstein was abducted before dawn on Aug. 13 after gunmen tricked his guards and broke into his home in the eastern city of Lahore. He is the country director in Pakistan for J.E. Austin Associates, an Arlington, Va.-based consulting firm.

He had been working on a development project in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas where Pakistani troops have been battling Islamist insurgents for years.

Authorities expressed frustration for more than a week that they didn't have solid clues about who arrested the American. But police said Wednesday they arrested three people suspected of belonging to the kidnapping gang.

Their arrests were made after officers tracked cell phone numbers, said Raza, the police chief. He did not provide the identities of the kidnappers.

Common tactic
Weinstein's abduction raised worries among aid workers, diplomats and other foreigners working in Pakistan, where anti-American sentiments run very high.

Kidnappings are common in Pakistan, and foreigners are occasional targets. Criminal gangs are suspected in most abductions, but militants are also believed to use the tactic to raise money through ransoms.

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

Weinstein had been living in Pakistan for five to six years, according to police. He was based in Islamabad but had been traveling to Lahore.

Weinstein, who has a home in Rockville, Maryland, speaks a fair amount of Urdu.

J.E. Austin Associates has stressed Weinstein's commitment to Pakistan's economic development and said he worked with a wide range of Pakistani government agencies, including the Pakistan Furniture Development Company and the Pakistan Dairy Development Company.

The company has also said Weinstein is in poor health and provided a detailed list of medications, many of them for heart problems. It implored the kidnappers to provide the medicines to the development expert.