News dot Com (Australia) : Terror suspect escapes from prison van

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Terror suspect escapes from prison van

Article from: Agence France-Presse | From correspondents in Islamabad | December 16, 2007

A BRITISH man suspected of plotting to blow up airliners flying from the UK to the US has escaped from police custody in Pakistan, officials have said.

Pakistan's arrest of British national Rashid 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.

It was alleged the plot involved using liquid explosives, prompting a clampdown on what passengers are allowed to take on international flights.

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

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

The 25-year-old was brought before a judge at a court in Islamabad for an extradition hearing when he escaped.

The police chief of Islamabad, Shahid Nadeem Baluch, has said: "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 has said 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," Mr Habib said.

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

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

A senior Islamabad police official has said 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."

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan last December dropped terrorism charges against Rauf 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.

In April, the Pakistani foreign ministry denied reports that Rauf would be extradited to Britain in exchange for separatist leaders.

There had been media reports in Britain suggesting London's attempts to secure the extradition were stalling because of Pakistani demands.

Rauf was detained under the Security of Pakistan Act, but all charges related to terrorism had been dropped, according to a senior official.