The Post : Agents ‘staged escape’ of Rauf

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Agents ‘staged escape’ of Rauf

The Post Monitoring | December 24, 2007

LAHORE: Friends of Rashid Rauf, the man wanted in Britain for last year's Al-Qaeda plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, claim that he did not escape from custody last weekend but was kidnapped by a military intelligence agency, The Times said in a report. They fear he may be shot reports.

Rauf was arrested in Pakistan in August last year at the same time as 25 men were held in Britain after police uncovered an alleged plot to blow up 12 airliners flying to the United States from Heathrow and Gatwick.

The arrests led to widespread changes in airport security and a ban on liquids being taken onto planes in hand luggage. Since then Rauf has been held with other Al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan's highest-security unit in Rawalpindi until his "escape" last weekend.

The Pakistan government has blamed junior policemen escorting Rauf back to jail after a court hearing in Islamabad where he was fighting moves to extradite him to Britain in connection with the murder of an uncle.

The officers had allowed him to stop for lunch at a McDonald's restaurant and later in the journey permitted him to pray at a mosque. His handcuffs were removed to allow him to pray freely. When the guards entered the mosque to check on the prisoner, he had escaped through another door.

Their description of his getaway has been met with disbelief throughout Pakistan, with diplomats and commentators asking how a prisoner described by the country's interior minister as a leading Al-Qaeda operative and held in Pakistan's highest-security detention unit could be allowed to walk away in broad daylight. Rauf's lawyer and a close family friend both said last week that they believed he had not escaped but had been taken into secret security-service custody and they feared for his life.

They said they believed the country's intelligence service did not want him to be extradited to Britain and had in effect kidnapped him to preempt any court decision to deport him. More than 400 opposition activists and Islamic militants have been secretly detained by the security services in this way and Pakistan's Supreme Court has criticised the policy and ordered the government to free a number of detainees.

Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistan intelligence agent who counts Osama Bin Laden as a friend, said he had shared a cell with Rauf and had become close to him and his family. He said Rauf was a simple man who did not have the wherewithal to plot an escape. He claimed that Rauf might have been "taken away by the ISI" and feared that his friend might be shot dead while "on the run".