Daily Mail : The mosque jailbreak: British terror suspect flees after being freed for afternoon prayers

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The mosque jailbreak: British terror suspect flees after being freed for afternoon prayers

By JAMES MILLS | December 17, 2007

A high-profile British terror suspect escaped after persuading police to let him visit a mosque on his way to prison in Pakistan, it was claimed yesterday.

Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of a plot to blow up ten transatlantic planes, slipped out of the back door of the mosque as two officers waited outside in a taxi.

The apparent ease of the 25-year-old's escape threatens to spark a diplomatic row as British counter-terrorism officers are furious that security surrounding Rauf had been downgraded.

Rauf, who holds joint British-Pakistani citizenship, was arrested in Pakistan in August 2006 after officers in the UK named him as a key player in the alleged plot to attack airliners flying from Britain to the U.S.

The investigation led to the tightening of hand luggage restrictions on flights, causing chaos and long delays at airports.

Rauf fled on Saturday afternoon as he was being taken back to high-security Adiala jail after an extradition hearing in Islamabad.

A Pakistani police source said that instead of the normal procedure of being transported in a security van, he was escorted by just two police constables in a private taxi.

On the way, he asked his guards if he could stop to say afternoon prayers at a roadside mosque.

"The policemen accepted his request," said the source.

"Rashid Rauf went inside the mosque with handcuffs on, but he slipped out from a rear door.

"They waited for about 20 minutes and when he didn't come out, one went to investigate.

"He found Rauf had used a back door to escape, apparently still wearing his handcuffs."

The source added that no radio alert was sent to other police stations and force chiefs were not informed until two-and-a-half hours later.

Rauf's lawyer Hashmat Habib suggested that his client's "mysterious disappearance" could have been politically motivated.

He said police commandos had escorted Rauf on earlier trips to court, adding: "How can it happen that only two policemen were travelling with him on Saturday?"

The two officers who had been escorting Rauf were arrested and questioned over allegations they were involved in the plot.

Sources at Adiala jail claimed yesterday that the police had been warned by prison staff that Rauf was considered a hardened criminal and required extra security.

He had originally been charged in Pakistan with possessing bomb-making chemicals and carrying forged travel documents but the allegations were dropped.

Rauf stayed in custody after Britain requested his extradition to face questioning over the murder of his uncle in 2002.

The two countries do not have an extradition treaty and British police are privately furious that the Pakistan authorities have delayed the request.

Police in Pakistan have raided the homes of several of Rauf's relatives and have arrested two of his uncles.

The country's Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz insisted yesterday that the suspect's capture was a "priority".

The escape will come as a major embarrassment to President Pervez Musharraf, who had lifted a six-week state of emergency just hours earlier.