Guardian : Mystery surrounds terror suspect's escape in Islamabad

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mystery surrounds terror suspect's escape in Islamabad

Matthew Weaver and agencies | Guardian Unlimited | December 17, 2007

Rashid Rauf, the British terror suspect on the run in the Pakistan, escaped from guards after being allowed to pray in a mosque, police said today.

But his lawyer, Hashmat Habib, rejected official accounts and told Pakistan's English-language paper, Dawn: "In my opinion, it is not escape, but a case of mysterious disappearance."

Habib said: "He was under tight security. How it was possible that he escaped like that?"

Rauf is one of 15 people charged with terrorism offences in connection with an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners. He was arrested by police in Pakistan last year based on information from the British authorities.

West Midlands police want to question Rauf in a separate inquiry over the murder of his uncle.

His disappearance on Saturday, from outside an extradition hearing at an Islamabad court, is seen as a further blow to already strained relations between the UK and Pakistan.

A police official said today that police guarding Rauf allowed him to say afternoon prayers at a mosque, en route to the high-security Adiala prison.

The official said: "Rashid Rauf went inside the mosque with handcuffs on, but he slipped out from a rear door." The guards sat in their car while Rauf escaped.

Two police officers were being questioned as a result.

Rauf, 26, from Ward End, Birmingham, left Britain shortly after his maternal uncle, Mohammed Saeed, 54, was stabbed to death in April 2002.

A spokeswoman for the British high commission in Pakistan said it had received assurances from the country's interior ministry that Rauf's recapture was a "priority".

Police have already raided the homes of Rauf's relatives, without success.

Rauf is married to a relative of the Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of the Islamic group Jaish-e-Mohammed.