France 24 : British terror suspect escapes in Pakistan

Sunday, December 16, 2007

British terror suspect escapes in Pakistan

A British citizen suspected of plotting to blow up US-bound airliners has escaped from police custody in Pakistan on Saturday, as he was brought before a judge for an extradition hearing.

AFP | December 16, 2007

A British man suspected of plotting to blow up US-bound trans-Atlantic airliners has escaped from police custody in Pakistan, officials said early Sunday.

"Rashid Rauf escaped from police custody and we are making every possible effort to re-arrest him," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema told AFP.

Rauf was arrested in central Pakistan in August 2006 and had been behind bars since then.

The twenty-five-year-old was brought before a judge at a court in Islamabad for an extradition hearing when he escaped Saturday afternoon.

The police chief of Islamabad, Shahid Nadeem Baluch, told AFP early Sunday: "The hunt is on to track him down. We have conducted some raids but so far there hasn't been any breakthrough."

The British government had requested Pakistan extradite Rauf to London where he is wanted by police in connection with the murder of his uncle in 2002.

Rauf's lawyer Hashmat Habib told AFP that his client had disappeared from police custody under "mysterious circumstances."

"Police took my client from Adiala jail Saturday afternoon for a court appearance in nearby Islamabad and now they say he's escaped.

"It comes at a time when the British government is trying to extradite him. And it all looks very suspicious to me," Habib said early Sunday.

Islamabad police said they are questioning several policemen who were deployed on guard duty to look after Rauf.

Local police said he was brought to the court from the nearby city of Rawalpindi, where the jail is located, and disappeared at around 2:30pm-3:00pm (0930-1000 GMT).

His lawyer was not with him at the time of his disappearance, the lawyer said.

A senior Islamabad police official told AFP on condition of anonymity that prison authorities did not inform them in detail about who Rauf was and only a handful of police officers were deployed for his security.

The senior police officer said: "Soon after the court proceeding as police were escorting him to a prison van he broke free from the handcuffs and ran away."

Pakistan's arrest of British national Rauf in 2006 sparked a worldwide security alert and 24 people were detained in Britain in a major swoop.

A day after his arrest a massive security alert was clamped on London's Heathrow Airport with mass cancellations of flights for several days over fears of a terrorist attack.

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan last December dropped terrorism charges against him relating to the conspiracy to detonate liquid explosives on jets flying from London to the United States.

Its order was suspended when the Punjab government lodged an appeal.

Rauf had then faced charges including impersonation, carrying a fake identity card and fake documents, which he denied.

Rauf had been in custody under the Security of Pakistan Act when he made his escape, but all charges related to terrorism had been dropped, according to a senior official.

Now on the run, Rauf has dual British-Pakistani citizenship and left Britain shortly after his maternal uncle, Mohammed Saeed, 54, was stabbed to death in Birmingham, west central England, in April 2002.

A police spokesman in Birmingham said that detectives there were aware of his escape from custody in Pakistan but would make no further comment.

In April this year, newspaper reports claimed Pakistan was prepared to extradite Rauf in exchange for eight suspected members of the Baluchistan Liberation Army suspected of insurgency on the Afghan-Iranian borders.

The organisation was added to Britain's list of proscribed terrorist organisations in July 2006, shortly before action against Rauf began.

Two men were charged with inciting terrorism and murder in Pakistan by having connections to the banned movement, although their supporters say they are human rights activists campaigning for a separate state.