The Post : The escape

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The escape

December 18, 2007

The escape of Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of the Trans-Atlantic flights from the UK to the US in August 2006, remains shrouded in mystery despite the Pakistani investigative agencies having singled out the two head constables and Rashid’s uncle for the escape. As a knee-jerk reaction to Rashid’s escape, a special team comprising the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials has been formed to arrest Rashid. The team is required to submit its report to the Interior Ministry within the next four days. Rauf, a British of Pakistani origin, succeeded in moving out from the UK in 2002 after the British police accused him of killing one of his relatives in Birmingham. After coming to Pakistan in 2002, Rauf is reported to have married a woman related to Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of Jaish-e-Mohammad. In August 2006, Rauf was arrested in Rawalpindi in a combined operation by intelligence agencies and police forces. After registering a case against him under the terrorism act and other acts of fraud, the police sent him to Adiala jail on judicial remand. The prosecution had alleged that Rauf was in possession of 29 bottles of the chemical hydrogen peroxide that could be used to blow up the Trans-Atlantic flights. The Anti Terrorism Court (ATC) dropped terrorism charges against Rauf. The judge had observed that the charges relating to terrorism were not relevant. Rauf still faced charges of impersonation, carrying fake identity card, fake documents, etc. The case was then sent to a civil court.

British officials had been trying to extradite Rauf to the UK for the last few months where Scotland secret police had to question Rauf about the Heathrow plot and his possible links to the 7/7 suicide bombers in London. The government officials had claimed that Rauf’s arrest would lead to the detection of the conspiracy to target jets and that he was linked to al Qaeda.

That Rashid was able to slip out of the police custody at a time when the Pakistan government was considering a request from Britain to extradite him in relation to the 2002 murder case adds to the mystery surrounding the whole issue. The events leading to the escape of Rashid, a high-profile accused, make it unlikely to be a case of “human failure”, as Nisar A Memon, caretaker Information Minister put it the other day. What makes the whole issue suspicious is the fact that over a period of time the level of Rashid’s security had been reduced from 12 police personnel to only two constables. That he was being transported in a private vehicle is another factor that arouses suspicion. Since all the eyes of the international media were focused on Pakistan, the government should have made fool-proof arrangements for Rashid’s transportation from the court to the jail. It is pertinent to ask who could be interested in the escape of Rashid Rauf. His escape has led some critics to think that there might be some elements within the police force having a soft corner for the extremists. Others are of the view that perhaps the government did not want Rashid to appear before the court as he could spill the beans on some sensitive issue. The incident is a cause of embarrassment for the government, particularly so when it is facing growing pressure on account of terrorism.