AFP : Burgers, prayers before Briton's Pakistan escape: official

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Burgers, prayers before Briton's Pakistan escape: official

December 17, 2007

ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistan police took a British plane bombing suspect who escaped from custody out for prayers and fast-food before he made his break to freedom at the weekend, a security official said on Monday.

The latest details of Rashid Rauf's disappearance on his way from court to jail Saturday came as police pursued a nationwide manhunt for the 26-year-old, suspected in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners.

Rauf had just finished an appearance in an Islamabad court when his uncle asked police escorts if they could all drive back to the jail in his more comfortable van rather than a police vehicle, a senior security official said.

The two police agreed, said the official, who asked not to be named.

On the way back to Adiala jail in the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi, Rauf asked permission to stop at a fast-food restaurant where the uncle, Muhammad Rafiq, bought a meal for all four of them, he said.

Rauf, whose alleged plot to blow planes out of the sky with liquid explosives led to worldwide restrictions on liquids in carry-on baggage, then asked to be allowed to visit a mosque to pray before going back behind bars.

While the prayer service was going on, the official said, Rauf and his uncle vanished.

"Rauf's uncle, who helped him escape from custody, has been arrested and is under interrogation," the official told AFP.

The two police escorts are also being questioned, amid reports that they waited several hours before telling their superiors that Rauf had got away.

A government official said Sunday that a committee had been formed to investigate the incident and that a first report was expected by Tuesday.

Britain has been seeking the extradition of Rauf in a 2002 murder case unrelated to the alleged plane plot, and his escape in murky circumstances was an embarrassment for the government, Dawn television network said on Monday.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is a key ally in the US-led "war on terror" but critics say the country could do more to cooperate in tracking and detaining militant suspects.

"We are investigating and in hot pursuit of the man," said Islamabad police chief Shahid Nadeem Baluch. "We are hopeful that we will capture him."

The superintendent of the jail where Rauf was being held told AFP that the police escorts may have unlocked his handcuffs when he went to pray.

"It is said that he asked permission to offer prayers and the two police officials who were escorting him allowed this," said Mohsin Rafiq, superintendent of Adiala jail.

"It seems his handcuffs would have been removed to let him say his prayers," Rafiq said. "It is sheer police negligence."