MET : UK wants Pakistan to help arrest dead al-Qaeda terrorist

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

UK wants Pakistan to help arrest dead al-Qaeda terrorist

Amir Mir | April 14, 2009

LAHORE: The British authorities have sought intelligence cooperation from the Pakistani agencies for the arrest and extradition of Rashid Rauf, an alleged al-Qaeda linked British national of Pakistani origin and the in charge of the outfit’s external operations’ branch responsible for attacks in Europe, despite the fact that he is reported to have been killed in an American predator air strike in North Waziristan in November 2008.

According to well informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad, the British demand has been conveyed to the Pakistani authorities through non-diplomatic channels, saying the previous assessment that Rashid Rauf had been killed in a November 2008 predator attack in North Waziristan has now been revised keeping in view credible information which has come to surface recently. The British authorities have told their Pakistan counterparts that a key al-Qaeda operative detained in Belgium recently has claimed that Rashid Rauf had trained him and dispatched him to Brussels to conduct a suicide attack during a meeting of the European leaders.

The al-Qaeda operative has reportedly disclosed that Rashid had plotted terrorist attacks in Belgium, France, Holland and England. While seeking intelligence sharing and cooperation from the Pakistani agencies, the British authorities have reportedly described Rashid as al-Qaeda’s director of operations in Europe. He has been accused of forming multiple cells, comprising 12 terrorists each, which had been dispatched last year from the Pakistani tribal areas to conduct a series of bomb attacks in the major cities of several European countries. The British authorities believe that these terror cells have been acting under the direct orders of Rashid Rauf who had apparently survived unhurt in the November 2008 missile attack.

It was on the basis of this intelligence information that the British authorities had recently arrested 12 people, including 11 Pakistanis on student visas, in raids on Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire. These students have been detained after protracted surveillance by the British authorities during which their homes were bugged, their telephones calls were intercepted and they were followed day and night by officers from Mi5’s A4 surveillance division. All those arrested are being probed for their alleged involvement in a failed terror plot to bomb several major shopping centres in Manchester over Easter.

Approached for comments, an interior ministry official in Islamabad confirmed that the British authorities want intelligence sharing and other such cooperation from their Pakistani counterparts to get hold of all those who have been involved in a possible terror plot aimed at targeting Britain. However, the official doubted the authenticity of the British intelligence information about Rashid Rauf having escaped the November 2008 missile strike in North Waziristan. When reminded that the al-Qaeda operative arrested by the British authorities from Belgium has claimed being trained and dispatched to Brussels by Rashid to conduct a suicide attack, the interior ministry official maintained that the terror plot might have been set in motion before the American predator strike had targeted Rashid in North Waziristan.

Rashid Rauf was reported killed on November 22, 2008 after a missile fired from a CIA predator drone destroyed a mud-built bungalow in Alikhel village of the North Waziristan tribal agency. The house targeted by the missiles belonged to Khaliq Noor who had rented it out to some Pakistani militants a few weeks ago. However, their location had been betrayed, either by their own use of a mobile telephone, or by the spies tracking them. A day after the strike, the US authorities claimed that five people were killed in the attack, including two prominent al-Qaeda figures, Abu Nasr Al Misri and Abu Zubair Al Masri. The Americans had claimed at the time that the attack was aimed at these al-Qaeda men instead of Rashid Rauf. The American CIA and the British MI6 subsequently touted Rashid Rauf’s reported death to international media as evidence of the effectiveness of the US Predator strike program in Pakistan.

Interestingly, shortly after the November 2009 predator strike in Waziristan and the subsequent American claims about the death of Rashid Rauf, his family members as well as his lawyer had claimed that he was still alive. Describing media reports about the killing of Rashid as fake, his lawyer Hashmat Ali Habib told BBC radio on November 25, 2008: “We don’t believe that this story is true. It is a fake story. We still believe that my client, Rashid Rauf, is alive.” He had noted at the time that his requests for Rauf’s body to be returned to his family had not been answered. “This is a new technique of the government to dispose of the cases like Rashid or other missing people”, he had stated.

As a matter of fact, Rashid Rauf, a close relative of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar, was wanted by the British authorities for being a central figure in an August 2006 plot to blow up some US-bound trans-Atlantic airplanes. According to the information the British authorities had provided to Pakistan while seeking his arrest in 2006, Rashid Rauf was born in Mirpur and he went to England in 1981 when he was hardly one year old. He returned to Pakistan in 2002 while carrying dual nationality of both Pakistan and Britain. The frequent use of text messages to Britain by Rauf, who left England after the April 2002 murder of his uncle Mohammed Saeed, actually led to his arrest from Pakistan. Rauf’s arrest triggered the British authorities to launch a series of drone raids which netted 24 suspects across the UK. Rashid’s younger brother Tayib Rauf, 22, was among those arrested in raids on homes in Birmingham, England.

Rashid was subsequently arrested in Pakistan on August 9, 2006 after a tip-off from British anti-terrorism authorities, days before a series of August 2006 raids and arrests in Britain of men accused of conspiring to smuggle liquid bombs on board a series of Atlantic flights. Rashid was arrested from a Jaish-e-Mohammad run religious seminary – Jamia Dar-ul-Uloom Madnia, located at Model Town B Block area of Bahawalpur and being run by his in-laws. However, he had fled from the police custody on December 15, 2007 from F-8 Markaz, which is located in the heart of Islamabad while being taken back to the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi after a court hearing. A subsequent inquiry had pointed out ‘inside help’ in his dramatic escape from the police custody.

The authorities subsequently arrested from Bahawalpur two of the five younger brothers of Masood Azhar and two of his six brothers-in-law. The arrests were made because of the fact that Rashid was the brother in law of one of Masood Azhar’s younger brother, Mohammad Tahir. Following the arrest of his two sons and two sons in law, Hafiz Allah Bukhsh, the father of Maulana Masood Azhar, reportedly told newsmen people in Bahawalpur that Rashid was a member of the Jaish but left it to join the rivals who were more interested in promoting al-Qaeda’s anti-Western agenda. “He was member of our group but later he deserted and joined Jamaatul Furqaan, led by a Jaish dissident, Maulana Abdul Jabbar,” Allah Bukhsh said at the Jaish headquarters in Bahawalpur in December 2007.

On August 17, 2007, a senior Pakistani official said in Islamabad that the British airport terror plot was sanctioned by Dr Ayman Zawahiri and that Rashid was the planner of the attacks. However, on December 13, 2006, the terrorism charges on Rashid were dropped as an anti terrorist court in Rawalpindi ruled there was no evidence of him being involved in planning any terrorist activity. Two days later, on December 15, 2007, as pressure mounted from the British government for his extradition, Rashid Rauf mysteriously escaped from the police custody. Almost nine months later, he was reported to have been killed in a US air strike.