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Pakistan Releases 1 of 2 Americans Accused of Illegal Crossing

June 19, 2002|JOSH MEYER and TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON -- The White House confirmed Tuesday that two U.S. citizens were detained separately by Pakistan after allegedly trying to enter the country from Afghanistan, and that one has been released and has returned to the United States.

Administration officials would not provide any details about the identities of those involved or the circumstances of their detentions. Senior Pakistani government officials said that neither of the detainees appeared to have any terrorist connections.

"We have looked into these reports and have confirmed that two Americans--these are separate instances--were being detained in Pakistan," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "As I understand [it], one individual is back in the United States, no longer being detained or in custody. The other individual is still in the custody of Pakistan."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the man who returned home "is neither under arrest nor in any form of detention" in the U.S. The second man, Boucher said, could remain in custody in Pakistan for several weeks while authorities there investigate him.

Boucher also said the two men appear to be the only Americans detained by Pakistan after having been in Afghanistan, despite various news reports about several U.S. citizens having been taken into custody.

In Pakistan, authorities confirmed that they released one of the Americans, and said both had been detained after they had crossed illegally into the country's mountainous tribal areas from Afghanistan.

"They are U.S. citizens of Afghan origin, and there has been no linkage established between them and Al Qaeda," said Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. "We are treating them as illegal border crossers."

The second American was believed to be in custody in the Pakistani town of Miram Shah, about 120 miles southwest of Peshawar.

According to one news report, which could not be independently confirmed, the men had crossed from Afghanistan's Paktia province and were trying to coax local tribesmen to volunteer for the Afghan army. There is much intermingling among residents on both sides of the border, many of whom share tribal blood ties.

News that the two Americans had been detained in the sensitive border area with Afghanistan raised interest because it closely followed the announcement of the arrest in Chicago of another U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla, allegedly after he had met in Pakistan with operatives of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network to plot attacks in the United States.

American authorities, who closely trailed Padilla on his return journey from Pakistan to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where he was arrested May 8, say that he was on a mission to build and detonate a bomb capable of emitting nuclear radiation--a so-called "dirty" bomb.

Pakistani officials have questioned that claim, portraying Padilla, also known as Abdullah al Muhajir, as a petty criminal with grand ideas but limited abilities.

Meyer reported from Washington and Marshall from Peshawar.

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