The Post : Rashid Rauf’s uncle helped in escape: police

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rashid Rauf’s uncle helped in escape: police

Kaswar Klasra/Agencies | December 18, 2007

ISLAMABAD: Rashid Rauf, wanted for an alleged plan to blow up airliners from the UK to the US with liquid explosives, slipped away in unclear circumstances, got away after police let his uncle drive him back to jail following a court appearance, a security official said on Monday.

The latest details of his escape will likely come as further embarrassment for the government, which was considering a British request for Rauf's extradition in an unrelated 2002 murder case. The senior security official, who declined to be named, said Rauf's uncle Rafiq had convinced the two police escorts to make the drive back to jail in Rafiq's more comfortable van. The official said that on the way to jail in Rawalpindi, Rauf, a British national of Pakistani origin, asked for permission to stop at a fast-food restaurant - where the uncle bought a meal for all of them. Then Rauf asked to visit a mosque for prayers, which was also allowed. While the prayer service was going on Rauf and his uncle disappeared.

"Rauf's uncle who helped him escape from custody has been arrested and is under interrogation," the official said. The superintendent of the jail where Rauf was being held said that the police escorts might have even unlocked his handcuffs when he went to pray. "It is said that he asked permission to offer prayers and the two police officials who were escorting him allowed this," said Mohsin Rafiq, superintendent of Adiala Jail.

"It seems his handcuffs would have been removed to let him say his prayers," Rafiq said. "It is sheer police negligence," he added. The two police escorts have also been detained for questioning. The government has launched a nationwide manhunt for Rauf, and established a committee to probe the escape - with an initial report requested by today (Tuesday).

In a bid to have some clues about Rashid Rauf, the law enforcement agencies arrested his uncle from his residence Khayaban-i-Sir Syed in Rawalpindi and shifted him to unknown place, it was learnt. According to sources, plain cloth officials raided the house of Rauf's uncle in the noon and took him to unknown place.

When this correspondent approached Rauf's uncle family to get their comments on recent move by the security personal, they remained tight-lipped. However, some eye-witnesses on the condition of anonymity told this scribe that plainclothes people raided the house and returned back hurriedly after taking head of the family with them.

Despite trying several times by this correspondent, Rawalpindi DIG Saud Aziz was not available for his comments. However, it was confirmed from DIG office that Rauf's uncle was taken into custody from his residence but nobody knows who raided the house. Interestingly, Pir Wadhi Police Station SHO Inspector Muhammad Khalid, when contacted said he was not informed about the whole episode of arresting Rauf's uncle.

Taking strict notice of Rauf's escape, President Pervez Musharraf has ordered the Interior Ministry to present him report of the incident immediately and take all out measures for his immediate re-arrest. The British government have conveyed their concerns to the government regarding the escape of Rauf and have sought an explanation as to how could such a major convict escape, the sources said.

On the other hand, the president expressing his concern over the incident has also sought a detailed report from Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan on the escape incident. The minister informed the president that a high-level investigative committee was working under additional secretary to ascertain the facts and a report would be presented soon. The president directed that investigations should be completed at the earliest.

According to some top-level sources, a deal between Pakistan and the UK governments were to be finalized. As a result, Pakistan was willing to hand over Rashid Rauf to Britain in exchange of at least eight people living in the United Kingdom. When asked about the interest of the government in getting back those eight people, the sources said that Pakistan claims that they were involved in an uprising in Balochistan.

Interior Ministry sources told this correspondent a list of eight members of the banned Balochistan Liberation Army including Mehran Baloch and Ghazian Marri, who are currently staying in London, was handed over to Britain almost one and a half month earlier. According to the sources, Mehran Baloch is said to be the chairman of the Balochistan Rights Movement. He speaks regularly at the UN conferences on the rights of the Baloch population.

Investigations into escape of Rashid Rauf from police custody will begin from today while the Interior Ministry has issued directives to Islamabad deputy commissioner to call in the police officers and constables escorting the accused. The interior minister had constituted a three-member committee headed by Additional Interior Secretary Imtiaz Qazi and comprising FIA Additional Director General Mirza Yasin Beg and Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Aamir Ahmad Ali to probe into the matter.

The ministry has issued notification to the deputy commissioner directing him to hold inquiry into the matter. Aamir Ahmad Ali said the escape incident was not an ordinary case. "It is an international issue. If need, the investigations will also be made from the high-ranking police officers," he added. The Margalla Police has started investigating two police constables escorting Rauf. The sources said the police constables did not take seriously the matter of safety and security of Rauf and treated him like ordinary prisoner.

The police sources said that the police often took Rauf in a taxi in connection with his inquiry. The sources told that Rauf was taken to Additional Deputy Commissioner Malik Zafar for inquiry on Saturday wherefrom he escaped from the custody of police. Rauf, a resident of Bahawalpur, was declared mastermind of aircraft bombing plot and was arrested and shifted to Adiala Jail.

Multan correspondent adds: The Bahawalpur Police raided the residence of Rashid Rauuf's brother Umair Ahmed and could not find clue of Rashid Rauf, as the police parties are conducting raids in different places. The police also asked question from his sister and brother. "We are keeping vigilant eyes on the residence of Umair Ahmed because we are confident that Rauf will approach here to see his brother and sister," an officer said.