Reuters : London plot suspect escapes in Pakistan

Sunday, December 16, 2007

London plot suspect escapes in Pakistan

December 16, 2007

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani-British man suspected of involvement in an al Qaeda plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners over the Atlantic has escaped from custody in the Pakistani capital, a senior official said on Sunday.

Rashid Rauf escaped on Saturday from outside an Islamabad court where police had escorted him for an extradition hearing.

"We're trying our best to re-arrest him," said Interior Ministry spokesman, Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema, speaking more than 20 hours after Rauf's disappearance.

Cheema gave no details on how Rauf escaped but he said the government had set up an inquiry to investigate the incident and report back within 48 hours.

"This has to be sorted out, how it happened and who were involved in it," he said.

Rauf's lawyer said his client's flight was a mystery.

"What made him do that when there was no major case against him and secondly, how did he manage this as 10 or 12 armed policemen were guarding him. It is a mystery," lawyer Hasmat Habib told Reuters.

Arrested in Pakistan in August 2006, Rauf was identified by Pakistani officials as a key figure in a plot to blow up airliners traveling from London to the United States.

But his case ran into a legal quagmire and was being handled by higher and lower courts simultaneously.

An anti-terrorism court dropped terrorism charges against him, citing a lack of evidence, and referred lesser charges, including the possession of explosives, to the civil court.

But a high court in Lahore, acting on a plea from the government, later suspended the trial in a move aimed at getting the case referred back to the anti-terrorism court.

Reports after his arrest said Rauf had left Britain and traveled to Pakistan in 2002 after the murder in Britain of an uncle.

Britain sought his extradition in connection with the murder, and Pakistan agreed to consider the request.

(Reporting by Kamran Haider; editing by Alistair Scrutton and Roger Crabb)

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