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Families of those missing in Pakistan seek answers

By Chris Brummitt

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 12:25 a.m. MST

Pakistani security officials have refused to comment on the whereabouts of Kashif or what crime he is suspected of.

But they did acknowledge the arrest of the Indonesian, Umar Patek, an al-Qaida-linked militant currently on trial in Jakarta for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.

Hameed says that Kashif found Patek, who was traveling with his wife, on the street and gave them shelter in a spare room in his large house in Abbottabad, an army town in northern Pakistan that gained notoriety because it was the site where bin Laden was killed.

Patek says he was traveling to Afghanistan to live and fight there. The ISI presumably suspected Kashif, a 21-year-old telecommunications student, was a member of a militant network because he gave shelter to Patek.

In a telephone interview, Hameed maintained his son's innocence and appealed for help in securing his release.

"On humanitarian grounds, please find him," Hameed said. "I have heard or seen nothing since the day he was taken."

Speaking privately, military and intelligence officials say they can't release many of the men because Pakistan's court system barely functions, meaning they will be released. They also maintain that some of the missing have joined militants fighting along the border region or in Afghanistan, and have not told their families or have been killed there.

Janjua said 1,080 people had been registered as missing with her organization, but she believed the number could be much higher. In the past week alone, 50 families had registered missing men with the organization amid the publicity generated by the Supreme Court case, she said.

As well as presumed militant suspects, human rights groups also allege security agencies have detained hundreds of separatist sympathizers from Baluchistan province, and that many have been killed. In 2010, video emerged of men in military uniforms killing a group men in the northwest Swat Valley, where the army put down an Islamist insurgency that year.

The Supreme Court ruling concerns 11 suspected militants who were captured in connection with a 2007 suicide bombing against ISI personnel and a rocket attack a year later against an air force base. An anti-terrorism court ordered them to be freed in 2010, but they were picked up again from a jail near the capital of Islamabad. Four are alleged to have died in custody from ill treatment or neglect.

On the court's orders, the ISI produced seven of the suspects on Feb. 13. Two of them were too weak to walk. Another wore a urine bag, suggesting a kidney ailment. In a meeting with their families on the court premises, they complained of harsh treatment during their detention.

In a rare move, an unnamed "security official" issued a four-page statement through the state-run news agency listing the accusations against the men. The statement — presumably released by the ISI — alleged the 11 were "hard-core terrorists" and that "the sympathizers of terrorists have forgotten the miseries" of the families of those killed in the 2007 and 2008 attacks.

At the camp, families of the missing keep turning up, desperate for information about husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.

Fehmida Begum, a 55-year-old widow, said plainclothes security officers, one of them armed, came to her house in September 2011 and took two of her sons, one of whom was a police commando. She said she had not heard of them since.

She denied her sons were associated with militants, but all were members of Tableeghi Jamaat, a conservative Islamic missionary organization, some of whose members have gone on to violence. "Their sin is that they are religious," she said. "They have beards. They say their prayers."

Like other relatives, she said all she wanted was for her sons to face trial.

"If my sons have committed a crime, hang them," she said.

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