Earth Times : British terror suspect tricked Pakistani police at mosque - Summary

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

British terror suspect tricked Pakistani police at mosque - Summary

December 17, 2007

Islamabad - A British terrorist suspect in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic commercial jetliners managed to escape from a mosque when his police escorts allowed him to say prayers on their way back to the prison, police investigators said Monday. Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, escaped from guards on Saturday afternoon after appearing before a district court judge in Islamabad for an extradition hearing relating to a separate murder investigation in Britain.

His two escorts were immediately detained and were being investigated for possibly aiding the escape.

"The detained policemen told us that they were going back to the jail with the suspect in a private cab, when Rauf requested them to allow him to say noon prayers at a roadside mosque," said Syed Kalim Imam, the head of the investigation team and Senior Superintendent Police, Islamabad.

He said Rauf entered the mosque with handcuffs on while the policemen waited for him in the cab. Twenty minutes later they discovered Rauf had slipped out a rear door while still wearing the handcuffs.

Initial media reports suggested the suspect had slipped out of his handcuffs and overpowered the escorts before escaping.

"We have suspicions that the escape was the result of a police conspiracy, starting with the fact that a private cab was used to escort the accused instead of a police van," Imam said. The law enforcement agencies were making every effort to "recover Rauf," he said.

The police conducted several raids on the residences of Rauf's relatives but without any success. His two uncles were detained, one from Rawalpindi and other from Muzaffarabad, the main town in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, for questioning.

Rauf was arrested in Pakistan in August 2006 on a tip from the British government, which suspected he was part of a plot to blow up several jetliners flying from Britain to the United States. The alleged plot prompted authorities to cancel flights and issue security alerts.

He was originally charged with possessing chemicals that could be used to make explosives and carrying forged documents. The charges were later withdrawn from a Pakistani court, which ordered his release last month.

But the government issued fresh detention orders under a Maintenance of Public Order law to keep holding him at Adiala Jail, a high-security prison in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

He was to have remained there until January while the court decided on his extradition to Britain in connection with the murder of this uncle in 2002.

Authorities feared the terrorist suspect might have fled to Pakistan's lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Police teams have been dispatched to the region to conduct a manhunt.

Rauf's in-laws are believed to have strong connections with a banned terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammed (The Army of Mohammed), which has close ties with al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

However, Hashmad Habib, Rauf's defence attorney, said he did not believe his client had escaped and feared for his safety.

"It's a case of a 'mysterious disappearance,'" he said. "He did not need to escape and I don't believe that he did."

Habib also said Rauf was not involved in the British murder and had wanted to return home to clear his name.

Meanwhile, the British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley contacted Pakistan's Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz on Sunday and conveyed him his government's concern over Rauf's escape.

The minister assured him that the suspect's capture is a "priority," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

On Monday, President Pervez Musharraf ordered the Interior Ministry to immediately present him report of the escape.

"The President directed that the investigations of the whole case should be completed at the earliest and he should be given a detailed report, and Rashid Rauf's re-arrest be ensured," his spokesman Rashid Qureshi said.

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