British militant 'killed by US missile strike in Pakistan'

Man accused of masterminding 2006 airliner plot said to have been the target of attack
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The Independent Online

A British citizen accused of being the ringleader of a potentially devastating 2006 plot to destroy transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives is said to have been killed by a US missile strike in Pakistan.

Unconfirmed reports said that Rashid Rauf was among five people killed by the attack, apparently carried out by an unmanned drone, in the lawless North Waziristan area located along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. The purported plot of which he was said to have been at the centre had the scope to kill as many people as the terror attacks of 9/11.

Mr Rauf had been named as a "mastermind" in an alleged plot to blow up a series of passenger jets flying to the United States and Canada from Heathrow airport in August 2006. The alleged plot involved using smuggled liquid gels to be detonated mid-flight.

British diplomats in Pakistan said they were awaiting news about yesterday's incident, and Mr Rauf's Pakistani lawyer also said he was unable to confirm or deny the reports of his death. "If the body is not handed over I cannot do that," said Hashmat Ali Habib. Mr Rauf's family declined to comment.

Mr Rauf, 27, from the West Midlands, was arrested in Pakistan in August 2006 having fled there following the murder of his uncle in 2002. He was arrested prior to the discovery of the airline plot. Once arrested, the UK sought the extradition of the British Pakistani over both the terror plot and the killing of his uncle. Yet Mr Rauf's lawyer protested his client's innocence, and in December 2006 a judge in Pakistan threw out a series of terrorism charges. Detained in custody on other charges of possessing explosives, Mr Rauf was due to be extradited to the UK but escaped from custody in suspicious circumstances in December 2007. At the time, Mr Habib said he believed Mr Rauf had been "disappeared" by the Pakistani intelligence authorities. Yesterday, he remained equally suspicious about the circumstances of Mr Rauf's reported death.

Two Pakistan intelligence officials, citing reports from field agents, said that four foreign militants and a Pakistani colleague had been killed in the pre-dawn strike on the village of Ali Khel. They told the Associated Press that the missile strike had targeted the house of a Taliban commander, Khaliq Noor, said to shelter foreign fighters. There was, however, no independent confirmation of any of these details, and the Pakistani authorities made no official pronouncement. "According to our information two missiles were fired by the drone on a house," said one intelligence officer in the region. A spokesman for the Taliban denied that any "foreigners" had been killed in the strikes, only civilians. He said that a number of children had also been injured.

After leaving Britain for Pakistan in 2002, Mr Rauf married a relative of one of Pakistan's most notorious militant leaders, Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of Jaish-e-Mohammad. The group is mostly accused of sending militants to fight in Kashmir, but some reports say it is linked to al-Qa'ida. There are even reports that its members were involved in the murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

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