Telegraph : Rashid Rauf was a living example of the danger from Pakistan's jihadis - until he was killed

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rashid Rauf was a living example of the danger from Pakistan's jihadis - until he was killed

The case of Rashid Rauf underscores not only the danger posed to Britain from Pakistan's jihadi underworld but also the friction between the two countries which can make terrorism so difficult to combat.

By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad | November 22, 2008

As one of the "most wanted" al-Qaeda terrorist suspects, Rauf, who held dual British-Pakistani nationality, was at the centre of wrangling between Britain and Pakistan from the moment he was seized.

After his arrest in 2006 in the southern Punjabi town of Bahawalpur at the behest of Washington, Britain tried assiduously to secure his extradition from Pakistan, an ally in the War on Terror.

Not only was he wanted in connection with the trans-Atlantic bomb plot, but he was also alleged to have been a point man for British nationals seeking to contact al-Qaeda members in Pakistan for training and to wage jihad.

British officials became exasperated with their Pakistani counterparts who made a series of awkward demands in return.

But in December 2007, Rauf escaped, in highly questionable circumstances, from Pakistani police custody.

After an appearence in a court in Rawalpindi, he was allowed by his two prison escorts to visit an American hamburger restaurant and then a mosque, from where he escaped through a back door. Rauf may well have sought refuge in the lawless border tribal areas which are a refuge for al-Qaeda.

One British security service official claimed not to know whether the escape was "cock up or conspiracy", but the episode further damaged the already fraught relationship - especially because some Pakistani officials were clearly less than enthusiastic about handing Rauf over to Britain.

Their reticence may have been connected to Rauf's alleged personal links with a jihadi terrorist group, Jaish-i-Mohammed, which has been backed by Pakistani military intelligence.

While in Pakistan, Rauf married a relative of one of Pakistan's most notorious militant leaders, Azhar Masood Azhar, the head of the group.

Now Gen Musharraf has gone but President Asif Zardari and his ruling Pakistan People's Party have little control over pro-jihadi stalwarts who are still in the establishment.

British intelligence officials fear that jihadis in Pakistan now pose more of a threat to Britain than they did seven years ago at the time of the Sept 11 attacks. Significant numbers of British citizens continue to flock to the tribal areas for jihad training, perhaps more than ever before.

But the security threat does not only come from the lawless tribal areas. Southern Punjab, where Rauf was arrested, was a clandestine hub used by Pakistani military intelligence to foster terrorist groups in the 1990s for jihad in Indian-held Kashmir.

Owais Ghani, the governor of the tribal areas, and senior military officials have warned publicly in recent months that the region continues to produce militants who are flocking to join the Taliban and fight the Pakistan Army.

The conditions for the production of more Raufs are still in place, but his reported death highlights American willingness to act where Pakistan cannot or will not - and ignore the shrieks from Pakistanis about US violations of their sovereignty.

"It goes to show that US intelligence is improving if they did hit Rauf," said Talat Masood, a retired general and defence analyst.

"The effect of Pakistan's protest against such strikes will be minimal if there is convincing proof that the missile strikes are hitting senior al-Qaeda figures, which Pakistan has been unable to do."