US Officials in Pakistan: Times Square Suspect Linked to Catering Company

Friday, May 21, 2010  |  Updated 2:59 PM EDT
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US Officials in Pakistan: Times Square Suspect Linked to Catering Company

NBCNewYork

The Nissan Pathfinder that was turned into a car bomb in Times Square.

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The U.S. Embassy warned Friday that terrorist groups may have "established links" to a high-class catering company in Pakistan that a security official said is owned by a suspect arrested over the failed car bombing in Times Square.

In an unusual e-mail message to Americans in Pakistan, the embassy said U.S. government personnel had been instructed to avoid using the Hanif Rajput Catering Service, a well-known firm that has been used by the American embassy and other foreign missions in the capital.

The embassy said the suspicions about the catering company have been shared with Pakistan government agencies.

The message said Rajput was owned Rana Ashraf Khan and his son Salman Ashraf.

Earlier this week, a senior security official said that one of at least two people arrested in Pakistan over links to a Pakistani-American detained in connection with the failed Times Square car bombing was called Salman Ashraf. He identified him as the son of the owner of Rajput catering service.

The official said the second suspect was called Ahmed Raza, who was a cousin of Salman. He said both men were suspected of having financial links with the primary suspect in the case, Faisal Shahzad. The Pakistani-American was arrested May 3 at John F. Kennedy International Airport while heading to Dubai two days after the botched bombing.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

A man who answered the phone at Rajput declined to comment on the allegations made by the U.S. embassy.

A biography on the Rajput website said Salman Ashraf Khan studied in Houston, Texas, before returning home to help run the family business. It said Rana Ashraf Khan worked for Pakistan International Airlines for 20 years and then started the catering firm.

Rajput cooks for large parties, providing food, cutlery and grand tents at embassy compounds and the homes of the well-to-do in Islamabad and other cities.

Faisal Shahzad is accused of leaving an SUV rigged with a homemade car bomb in Times Square on May 1. The bomb failed to explode.

U.S. authorities suspect he had contact with members of the Pakistani Taliban in their hideouts in the northwest of the Pakistan close to the Afghan border. Pakistan says it is cooperating with the probe, but has released little information about what it is finding.

Shahzad was born in Pakistan but moved to the United States when he was 18. He is the son of former air force vice marshall and led a privileged life. He has family roots in the major northwestern city of Peshawar, but he grew up in at least one other city, Karachi, relatives and officials have said.

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