Times Online : Police officers charged over the escape of terror suspect Rashid Rauf

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Police officers charged over the escape of terror suspect Rashid Rauf

by Zahid Hussain, of The Times, Islamabad | December 20, 2007

Two Pakistani police officers were charged with criminal conspiracy after a high-powered committee found that they had helped Rashid Rauf, a key suspect in the Heathrow bomb plot, to escape.

Mr Rauf, a British national of Pakistani origin, fled custody as he was being transported from an Islamabad court to the high-security Adiala jail in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on Saturday.

An investigation into the incident revealed that the escape was facilitated by Mohammed Tufail and Nawab Zada, the police officers guarding him.

"It is not a case of negligence, but a case of criminal collusion," the enquiry committee set up by the Interior Ministry said. The guards who had escorted Mr Rauf to the court on three previous occasions removed his handcuffs and let him get away, the report said.

The report presented to the Government, this morning, has recommended action against senior police officers for negligence as they failed to take the appropriate security measures required for the transportation of highly dangerous prisoners.

Islamabad police reportedly ignored repeated requests by the jail authorities to send additional force to escort Mr Rauf to the court.

The investigation revealed that the two police officers had illegally taken Mr Rauf to his uncle's house on two previous occasions after court hearings. The officers had apparently developed good relations with Mr Rauf and his family.

The officers who were detained for questioning after the incident, told investigators that Mr Rauf fled after they allowed him to say his prayers at a mosque on the way to the jail.

But the investigation showed that he was let go when he was driven to jail in his uncle's car. Police have detained Mohammed Rafiq, Mr Rauf's uncle and several other relatives for questioning.

Mr Rauf's escape has caused huge embarrassment to the Government of President Musharraf. It is also seen as a setback to Pakistan's effort to combat international terrorism.

Britain is seeking Mr Rauf's extradition in connection with the murder of another uncle, Mohammed Saeed, who was stabbed to death in Birmingham in 2002. Mr Rauf would also be questioned over his alleged role in the Heathrow bomb plots.

Mr Rauf, from Birmingham, is suspected of playing a vital role in the development of the al-Qaeda threat to Britain. He fled to Pakistan after his uncle's murder and became involved with Jaish-e-Mohammed, the outlawed Islamic militant group.

He is believed to have acted as a facilitator and link man for young Britons arriving in Pakistan for jihadi training.

Mr Rauf's arrest from Pakistan's Punjab province in August 2006 triggered a series of arrests across Britain amid allegations of a plot to detonate liquid explosives on board aircraft flying between Heathrow and the United States.

A nationwide hunt has failed to turn up any traces of him. Some media reports suggest that he might have fled to the lawless tribal border region, a stronghold of Islamic militants. Investigators do not rule out the possibility of him even crossing over to Afghanistan.