Image from Pakistan yields fiery reaction

Dundalk Eagle vacation photo raises ire


From a Las Vegas hotel, two former Dundalk residents smile for the camera. In another shot, three vacationers are shown at the Salem Witch Museum in New England.

They are posing with copies of The Dundalk Eagle, and the pictures are part of the paper's popular "Take the Eagle on Vacation" feature.

Then there was Khurshid Khan's trip.

The Dundalk resident returned to his homeland of Pakistan and, surrounded by family members, stood with the historic Khyber Pass as a backdrop and the Eagle front and center. Khan stood with six others dressed in their native garb, one cradling an AK-47, another holding a rifle.

Can we say red alert?

The photograph, which Kahn said was submitted to the paper in June, was published Sept. 8. Angry letters and e-mail landed at the paper. The editor, Wayne Laufert, said he fielded a couple of dozen telephone calls from readers upset about the photo.

One reader was so concerned about the photo, Laufert says, that he alerted the FBI and called the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Laufert published an explanatory note in the Eagle the next week, saying it was the paper's intention in publishing the Khan photo "to show a quite different kind of vacation taken by a Dundalk man returning to his family. In that region [on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan], guns are brandished by people patrolling the border."

The picture was a "remarkable glimpse of a different culture. ... The timing made matters worse," Laufert wrote.

The photo ran three days before the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Khan said the FBI called him the day after the Eagle ran his photo.

"I was very surprised that the FBI called me," said Khan. "They said they had a couple of complaints about the photograph, that they looked through my background and everything was fine. I told them about my family, where I was on vacation, that we were on the frontier. It was in the region of the Pashtun tribe; everyone in that area carries guns. It is part of the culture."

Within a day or two of being contacted, Khan said, an FBI agent notified him that he was not under investigation. "He was nice about it," Khan said.

Barry Maddox, spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore field office, said he could not comment on the matter. "We do follow to a logical conclusion all calls about any perceptions of threats" related to terrorism, Maddox said.

Laufert said Baltimore County police asked him about the photo, but he was not contacted by the FBI.

Khan, 66, said he retired from the General Motors auto plant on Broening Highway after working there 33 years. He and his wife reside on a quiet street in Dundalk, an American flag displayed in their front yard. They have a grown daughter.

Khan has lived in Dundalk since 1969.

Frank Balsamo, an executive at a Dundalk car dealership, wrote one of the letters criticizing publication of the Khan photo. He said that he contacted the FBI through a neighbor and that he also notified the Department of Homeland Security.

"It was done in extremely poor taste," said Balsamo. "With just days to go before the observance of 9/11, the timing could not have been more terrible. The content of the photo was very disturbing, the weapons and all."

The image in the Eagle photo was "shocking to me -- the guns, the people dressed in their attire," said Frank Hammond, a Sparrows Point resident who also had a letter in the Eagle protesting the photo. "The other thing was the timing. I just can't understand it."

The Khyber Pass area has served as a gateway for invaders and smugglers for centuries, according to historians. Village shops sell brass items, silk scarves and rare rugs, but the region remains volatile.

"More than 150 years ago, people in that region were making flawless replicas of British-made weapons with primitive tools," said S. Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. "Today, weapons still are very common. The people there are tough mountaineers."

Khan talked to The Sun on the phone three times, but he declined to give the paper permission to reprint the photo that was published in The Dundalk Eagle.

The Eagle has been published since 1969 and has a weekly circulation of about 20,000. The tabloid-size paper covers community news and events. One of its strongest featured contests is the "Mystery Beauty," a photo of an unidentified local woman. The first reader to name the woman wins a shampoo and haircut at a local shop.

But the paper's homespun style does not mean that the Eagle's editorial staff does not aggressively cover news. Staff members pride themselves on their connection to the community.

"We knew Mr. Khan prior to the photo being published," Laufert said. "He did volunteer work in Dundalk, sometimes dressing as Santa Claus for Christmas.

"We're just sorry that he and his family were put through all this," Laufert said. "I just hope he doesn't wind up on a database somewhere."

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