Khaleej Times : Escaped British murder suspect not wanted for terrorism

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Escaped British murder suspect not wanted for terrorism

DPA | December 18, 2007

ISLAMABAD - A British murder suspect who escaped while in Pakistani police custody last weekend, touching off an international media frenzy, is not facing terrorism charges back home relating to a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic commercial jetliners, an official here said Tuesday.

Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, is only wanted in connection with the murder of his uncle in Birmingham, England, in 2002, said Aidan Liddle, a press officer at the British High Commission in Islamabad.

He said it was incorrect to refer to Rauf as an escaped terrorism suspect and that an extradition request by the London was only related to the murder case.

‘The extradition was connected with the murder charge. That’s it, really,’ Liddle said.

Rauf escaped from police guards on Saturday afternoon after appearing before a district court judge in Islamabad for a hearing on the extradition request, which his defence attorney is fighting.

His two escorts were detained and were formally charged Tuesday with aiding his escape amid widespread speculation that they were part of the plot.

The guards told their superiors that following the court hearing, they accepted an offer by Rauf’s uncle to drive them back to the Adiala Jail in the nearby city of Rawalpindi in his vehicle, and along the way took them and the prisoner to lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant near the jail, Shahid Nadeem Baluch, the police chief of Islamabad, told DawnNews TV.

Rauf, who was not handcuffed, was then allowed to say prayers alone inside a nearby mosque, during which time he slipped out a back door and fled, police officials said.

The police conducted several raids on the residences of Rauf’s relatives in Pakistan but did not find him. His uncle, as well as another uncle from Muzaffarabad, the main town in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, were both detained for questioning.

‘We’ve been assured there’s going to be an inquiry but frankly the most important thing is that he’s recaptured,’ Liddle said.

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 for three months while the extradition proceedings continued.

Authorities fear Rauf 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 Taleban militants.