The News [Pak] : UK terror suspect was linked to Masood Azhar

Monday, December 01, 2008

UK terror suspect was linked to Masood Azhar

By Amir Mir | November 23, 2008

LAHORE: A high-level probe ordered by the Pakistani authorities into the 2007 dramatic escape of the British terror plot suspect Rashid Rauf from police custody had concluded that he had fled with the collusion of the police and some Jaish-e-Mohammad-linked militants while he was being transported to the Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi after a court appearance.

Rashid Rauf, who is reported to have been killed in the North Waziristan area on Friday in a US missile strike along with four other al-Qaeda-linked militants, was arrested on August 9, 2007 [sic; s/b 2006] from a Jaish-e-Mohammad-run seminary, the Madrassa Madina, situated in the Model Town area of Bahawalpur. He was arrested a couple of days [sic] before the British crackdown and arrests of the main plotters in London. Rashid Rauf became the focus of world attention after being named by the British intelligence as the main plotter of a terrorist plan to blow up the US-bound British airliners with the help of liquid explosives. He was arrested in Pakistan after a tip-off from British anti-terrorism authorities, days [sic] before a series of August 2006 raids and arrests in Britain of eight men accused of conspiring to smuggle liquid bombs on board a series of Atlantic flights. However, almost 16 months after his arrest, Rashid escaped from the police custody under mysterious circumstances, at a time the British government had officially requested Pakistan to extradite him to London.

A subsequent inquiry into his December 15 escape dismissed claims by Rauf’s police guards that he had slipped away after being allowed to pray in a mosque. The report of the probe committee described as concocted the claim made by his two police guards that he mysteriously disappeared from the mosque. “The escape was made good in the vicinity of F-8 Markaz, the district court in Islamabad, and right after the hearing. Therefore, it is not a case of negligence, but a case of criminal collusion with the accused and facilitating him to escape. F-8 Markaz is located in the heart of Islamabad. Police constables Mohammad Tufail and Nawabzada, who were guarding Rauf, had claimed that he had slipped out of the back door of a mosque after they allowed him to offer afternoon prayers there,” stated the probe report.

Those conducting the inquiry had also reportedly questioned Mufti Abdul Rauf, the younger brother of the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar for his alleged involvement in bribing the police constables on duty. The mobile phone call record of the two constables suggested that Nawabzada and Tufail talked to each other at least three times after Rauf went missing besides making numerous other phone calls, probably to some militants who had masterminded the escape plan. Interestingly, the location of constable Nawabzada was a private bus stand near Choor (from where Rauf was taken to his next destination) while Tufail was somewhere else, whereas both claimed that they had been guarding Rauf.

As soon as Rashid Rauf escaped, the authorities arrested from Bahawalpur two of the five younger brothers of Masood Azhar and two of his six brothers-in-law. The arrests were made because of the fact that Rashid Rauf was the brother-in-law of one of Masood Azhar’s younger brother, Mohammad Tahir. Following the arrest of his two sons and two sons-in-law, Hafiz Allah Bukhsh, the father of Masood Azhar, told media people in Bahawalpur that Rashid was a member of the Jaish but left it to join the rivals who were more interested in promoting al-Qaeda’s anti-Western agenda. “He was member of our group but later he deserted us and joined the Jamaatul Furqaan, led by a Jaish dissident, Maulana Abdul Jabbar,” Allah Bukhsh said at the Jaish headquarters in Bahawalpur in December 2007. “Our cause is the liberation of Jammu and Kashmir, while their main cause is Afghanistan. They are anti-American but we are not,” Bukhsh added.

To a question, Bukhsh said he spoke with Rashid Rauf several times after he left the Jaish and conceded that the Briton was related by marriage to one of his own sons, Mohammad Tahir. In Bahawalpur, he added, Rashid Rauf was known as Mohammad Khalid Rauf who has two young daughters (at that time) -- one less than a year old and the other around two years old. On August 17, 2007, a senior Pakistani official conceded [sic] that the British airport terror plot was sanctioned by Dr Ayman Zawahiri and that Rashid was the planner of the attacks. However, on December 13, 2007, the terrorism charges on Rashid were dropped as the court ruled that there was no evidence of him being involved in planning any terrorist activity.

Two days later, on December 15, 2007, as pressure mounted from Britain for his extradition, Rashid Rauf mysteriously escaped from the police custody, only to be killed in North Waziristan in a US air strike 11 months later, thus confirming [sic] the British intelligence reports that he had been an active member of the Osama-led [sic] terror organisation.