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Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 17:39 UK

US terror arrest leaves Pakistani villagers stunned

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Mohib Banda, Pakistan

Nasir Khan
He never spoke about the Taliban, or any other militant group, but he had grown critical of American policy
Nasir Khan, villager

The two Pakistani family homes of US terror suspect Faisal Shahzad - one in the city of Peshawar and the other in his ancestral village, Mohib Banda - are both sealed for the moment.

News reporters and camera crews camped outside the Peshawar house say the family has left the place, although some servants are still inside. However, the domestic staff neither answer the door nor pick up the phone.

The house in Mohib Banda, some 30km (18 miles) east of Peshawar, presents a different scene. The occupants - Faisal Shahzad's cousin and his wife - are at work and have put a padlock on the door.

The lock remains in place until long after working hours, presumably because the inhabitants want to avoid dozens of journalists who have converged on the place along with a huge crowd of equally curious villagers.

Childhood friend

Those who met Faisal Shahzad frequently in recent years indicated that he had changed.

Faisal Shahzad's family home in Mohib Banda
The family home looks deserted

"He was a jovial type, very active and playful. But after his marriage some three years ago, he began to change. He moved his base from Peshawar to Karachi, grew a beard, and grew quieter and withdrawn," says Faiz Ahmad, a local elder.

"I think he must have come in touch with extremists who infiltrated the Pakistan air force in the mid-2000s."

Nasir Khan, who describes himself as a childhood friend of Faisal Shahzad, takes pains to explain that he was not the kind of person who he would imagine blowing up large numbers of unsuspecting people.

But he, too, noticed a change in him in recent years.

"He never spoke about the Taliban, or any other militant group, but he had grown critical of the American policy about Muslims, such as the developments in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Nasir says he last met Faisal Shahzad in mid-2009 when he came to Peshawar for a wedding in the family.

"I know he stayed in Pakistan a long time, but I did not see him after the wedding, and I don't know about his movements other than the fact that he was based in Peshawar most of the time instead of Karachi," he says.

The villagers themselves speak with different voices.

'Well-bred'

Some say what Faisal Shahzad reportedly did in the US was wrong because it has brought a bad name to his village.

Donkey and cart go past Faisal Shahzad's family home
Many locals see Faisal Shahzad's family as pillars of the community

Others say the story is incredible, probably an American "conspiracy" against Pakistan.

Most of them have not seen Faisal Shahzad in their lives. A few say that they have seen him once or twice on the rare occasions when he visited the village.

Even fewer people claim to know him, although his first cousin, Ibrar Khan, claims some knowledge.

"His father was in the air force and lived mostly in distant cities," he says.

"That is where Faisal and his elder brother, Amir Shahzad, were born and educated. I don't know them any more than that."

But despite this admission, he is adamant that Faisal Shahzad is innocent.

"You talk to anyone in the village and they will tell you what kind of family it is."

Most villagers consider Faisal Shahzad's father, Air Vice-Marshal (retd) Baharul Haq, to be well educated and well bred - they see the Shahzad brothers as the scions of a noble family.

Some reports suggest that Faisal Shahzad arrived on his last trip to Pakistan in July 2009 and left in February 2010.

For many close relatives, the news of his arrest came as a shock.

"You have made my hair stand on end," remarked a relative to whom I broke the news of his arrest.

"I cannot believe this. They are all very educated and gentle people."



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