Sunday Times : Minister hits out at attacks by US drones

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Minister hits out at attacks by US drones

David Leppard and Abul Taher | From The Sunday Times | April 12, 2009

A GOVERNMENT minister has called for Britain to distance itself publicly from the American policy of launching attacks on Al-Qaeda terrorists with pilotless drones to avoid inflaming Pakistani opinion.

Sadiq Khan, the community cohesion minister, said he had listened to the “anger and frustration” of students in Islamabad over US attacks inside Pakistan. “It’s quite clear in many Pakistani eyes that the UK is considered in the same terms as the US,” said Khan. “We want to explain that our foreign policy, especially on the issue of drone attacks, is distinct from US foreign policy.”

Khan’s comments came as the full extent emerged of what investigators believe is Pakistan-based control of the alleged Al-Qaeda plot to bomb shopping centres in Manchester over Easter.

Rashid Rauf, a fugitive British terrorist identified by MI5 as Al-Qaeda’s “director of operations” in Europe, is suspected of planning the bombing as part of a “master plan” for attacks on European cities.

Multiple cells, comprising at least 12 terrorists each, were dispatched last year from Pakistan’s tribal areas to conduct a series of atrocities in the UK, France, Belgium and elsewhere, an Al-Qaeda informant has told MI5. The cells are said to have been acting under the orders of Rauf, 27, from Birmingham, who has previously been linked to the failed suicide attack on London in July 21, 2005.

The plan was set in motion just weeks before a US Preda-tor missile strike targeted Rauf in a remote Pakistani village. Officials are still unclear whether he survived the attack last November.

Details of the plan were uncovered by MI5 last December after the arrest of 14 suspected Islamist terrorists in Brussels. Belgian prosecutors said at the time they believed the men were planning a suicide attack to coincide with a European Union summit attended by Gordon Brown.

A senior Scotland Yard official said one of the suspects had confessed that he had been “personally tasked” by Rauf to carry out the bombing. In an interview with MI5 he disclosed that Rauf, who fled to Pakistan seven years ago, had ordered a series of European attacks.

He said the Al-Qaeda chief had dispatched a cell leader to a British city to plan an attack there. Sources say the alleged Easter bomb plot is likely to have been that attack.

Last week 12 men, including 11 Pakistanis on student visas, were arrested in raids on Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe, Lancashire.