National Post (Canada) : Suspect escapes on a full stomach

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Suspect escapes on a full stomach

Convinced jailers to stop to eat, pray

Rana Jawad, Agence France-Presse, with files from Reuters | December 18, 2007

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan police took a British plane-bombing suspect who escaped from custody out for prayers and fast food just before he made his break to freedom on the weekend, a security official said yesterday.

The latest details of Rashid Rauf's disappearance on his way from court back to jail on Saturday came as police pursued a nationwide manhunt for the 26-year-old, suspected in a 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic airliners.

Mr. Rauf had just appeared in an Islamabad court when his uncle asked police escorts if they could all drive back to the jail in his more comfortable van rather than a police vehicle, a senior security official said.

The two police agreed, said the official, who asked not to be named.

On the way back to Adiala jail in neighbouring Rawalpindi, the suspect asked permission to stop at a fast-food restaurant where the uncle, Muhammad Rafiq, bought a meal for all four of them, he said.

Mr. Rauf, whose alleged plot to blow planes out of the sky with liquid explosives led to worldwide restrictions on liquids in carry-on baggage, then asked to be allowed to visit a mosque to pray.

While the prayer service was going on, the official said, Mr. Rauf and his uncle vanished.

"Rauf's uncle, who helped him escape from custody, has been arrested and is under interrogation," he said.

The two police escorts are also being questioned amid reports they waited several hours before telling superiors the prisoner had got away.

A committee has been formed to investigate the incident and a first report is expected today.

Authorities also arrested another of Mr. Rauf's uncles and raided his house in Bahawalpur, eastern Pakistan.

Britain has been seeking to extradite Mr. Rauf for the murder of yet another uncle, Mohammed Saeed, his mother's brother, who was stabbed to death in Birmingham in 2002.

His escape in murky circumstances was an embarrassment for the government, Dawn television network said yesterday.

Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan President, is a key ally in the U.S.-led "war on terror" but critics say the country could do more to co-operate in tracking and detaining terrorist suspects.

"We are investigating and in hot pursuit of the man," said Shahid Nadeem Baluch, the Islamabad police chief. "We are hopeful that we will capture him."

The superintendent of the jail where Mr. Rauf was being held said the police escorts may have unlocked his handcuffs when he went to pray.