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U.S. remains puzzled by abduction of popular development expert

Mike Redwood / AP

Warren Weinstein in England in 2009.

A senior international development official in Pakistan who worked with kidnapped U.S. contractor Warren Weinstein over the last two years tells NBC News that Weinstein was "popular" and "well-known," particularly in bureaucratic and political circles in-country, and had earned a reputation for making efforts to respect and adhere to local practices, making his disappearance all the more difficult to understand.

Weinstein, 70, had been in Pakistan for more than five years doing development work when gunmen reportedly forced their way into his Lahore home and kidnapped him before dawn Saturday. The FBI and Pakistani authorities are investigating, and Weinstein's security guards and driver have been questioned, but so far there are no leads and no ransom demands, and no group has claimed responsibility. This week, police released a sketch of a possible suspect. 

The development official, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said Weinstein went above and beyond the efforts typically made by contractors in Pakistan — most of whom, he said, stay briefly, focus on the project at hand and leave when the work is completed. 

Weinstein, he said, adopted local practices and customs as much as possible, often wearing the traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez: loose-fitting pants and a long tunic top. He made an effort to learn Urdu and used a number of words in his everyday language. Weinstein also diligently worked to maintain contact with his network on the ground, sending out messages and greetings for religious and cultural occasions.

"That made him very popular with a lot of people here," said the official. 

Weinstein also built a wide circle of friends and contacts in Pakistan, using what the official called his "appetite for social networking."

Weinstein's primary responsibility in Pakistan was to serve as the country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a U.S.-based development consulting firm. But according to this official, Weinstein got more work through his extensive network and had a penchant for working his way onto contracts and into meetings that did not necessarily fall within his area of expertise, which included a focus on the agricultural sector.

"You'd walk into a meeting on industry or anything else — and Warren would be sitting there," said the official. "We'd laugh and say, 'How did you get on this one, Warren?!?'"

One such project included a Punjab government contract for private-sector development work, funded by the U.K.'s  Department for International Development. Weinstein had been requested by an official within the Punjab government for the project, which required developing a strategy for private-sector development and reorganizing provincial government departments to support that work. 

"I did advise [Weinstein] to join hands with an economist on this project, since it wasn't his expertise," said the official. "He laughed and said, 'Do you think economists are going to do anything good for your country?' He does have a  good sense of humor."

Despite working outside his comfort zone, the official said, Weinstein always had "a huge amount of energy and excitement" and was always "pleasant," "professional" and "incredibly personable." 

A year and a half ago, Weinstein confided in this official that he had a serious heart condition and was being treated in Pakistan.

"He had become extremely careful in his eating habits," said this official. "I asked him why he didn't just go back to the U.S. for treatment, but he said he trusted the doctors in Lahore."