Rashid Rauf was linked to al-Qaeda's number two Ayman al-Zawahiri
A British al-Qaeda suspect reportedly killed by a US missile strike in a Pakistani tribal area was linked to the group's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to officials.
By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad | November 24, 2008
Rashid Rauf and a Saudi militant called Abu Zubair al-Masri were among five killed in a missile attack in North Waziristan on Saturday.
Rauf, a British national, was alleged to have been the mastermind of an al-Qaeda plot to blow up passenger aircraft in mid-air after they left London bound for the United States.
There was no independent corroboration of his death but local Pakistani intelligence officials and US intelligence officials believed he was dead, according to a senior Pakistani military source.
Kamal Shah, the senior civil servant in the interior ministry, said: "There is no independent confirmation but Rauf is believed to be dead." Hashmat Habib, Rauf's lawyer, said that villagers in Rauf's ancestral village in Mirpur district in Kashmir, had gathered to offer condolences to his client's family.
The military source claimed that the operation had been conducted entirely using US intelligence assets.
He said that Pakistani intelligence had known that Rauf was "moving between North and South Waziristan".
"This has come from their (America's) end. Both of them [Rauf and Misri] were being tracked. We were not involved in this attack," he said.
Pakistan has officially protested to the United States that missile strikes violate its sovereign territory, although some officials say there was a tacit understanding between the two militaries to allow such action.
"In fact, for some time now the US has totally by-passed our [intelligence] agencies," he added.
A Pakistani intelligence official said that the US believed that Rauf was staying with a group connected to Zawahiri. Zawahiri is believed by American officials to operate from Pakistan's lawless, tribal border areas.
A US missile strike was launched against him in the tribal agency of Bajaur in 2006 but he escaped unharmed.
The information minister, Sherry Rehman, confirmed that Rauf and Misri were targeted in the raid. She did not elaborate.
Rehman reiterated her government's complaint that missile attacks, apparently launched from unmanned aircraft, are fanning anti- Americanism and Islamic extremism tearing at both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"It would have been better if our authorities had been alerted for local action," said Ms Rehman. "Drone incursions create a strong backlash."
Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, has been on the run since last December, when he escaped from police escorting him back to jail after an extradition hearing in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
Britain was seeking his extradition ostensibly as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, but Rauf had allegedly been in contact with a group in Britain planning to smuggle liquid explosives onto trans-Atlantic flights and also with a suspected al-Qaeda mastermind of the plot in Afghanistan.