The Sunday Times : British terror suspect slips custody in Pakistan

Sunday, December 16, 2007

British terror suspect slips custody in Pakistan

Dean Nelson | December 16, 2007

RASHID RAUF, the British Muslim awaiting extradition for his alleged involvement in the 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, escaped from police custody in Pakistan yesterday after appearing before a judge at a court in Islamabad, the capital.

According to police, Rauf managed to open his handcuffs and evade two guards who were taking him back to jail in the nearby city of Rawalpindi.

“We do not know how he escaped. But we do know he has escaped and the two policemen have been taken into custody for negligence,” said Khalid Pervez, a police official.

“I don’t know anything — I’m shocked,” Rauf’s father, Abdul Rauf, said last night from his Birmingham home.

Rauf, 26, a cosmetics salesman and suspected Al-Qaeda member, was arrested and charged in Pakistan in August last year on a tip-off from British intelligence, who identified him as a key figure in the plot to attack airliners flying from Britain to the United States.

The alleged plot triggered a major security alert at airports and led to increased restrictions on hand luggage.

The British authorities have asked Pakistan to extradite Rauf, who is also wanted in connection with a 2002 murder inquiry in Britain that is separate from the alleged terror plot.

Rauf was held in the country’s most secure detention centres, but the investigation stalled and the charges were finally dropped last week because of lack of evidence. Pakistan was hoping to trade Rauf’s extradition to Britain for the return of a number of Baluchistan nationalists fighting for greater autonomy.

Although Islamabad has no extradition treaty with Britain, its government can hand over any prisoner at its own discretion.

Pakistani analysts cast doubt on the official account of yesterday’s events and speculated that Rauf’s “escape” might be a prelude to an “encounter killing”, when a suspect is shot by police trying to recapture them. Such extrajudicial killings are common in India and Pakistan.