Kashmir quake relief link to terror network

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The Independent Online

Questions are being asked about a possible Kashmir connection to the London bomb plots. The two brothers reportedly at the centre of the investigation, Rashid and Tayib Rauf, from Birmingham, are both British citizens of Kashmiri origin.

Rashid Rauf is one of at least 17 people being held in Pakistan in connection with the alleged plot. Very little substantial information has emerged from Pakistan, but there is one moment in recent history when British Kashmiris had direct contact with militant Islamic groups in Pakistan, and there was nothing secret about it.

During the relief effort after last year's devastating Kashmir earthquake, hundreds of British Kashmiris travelled back to their homeland to help in the relief effort. While there they were in daily contact with the militants - because in the early stages it was the militants who ran the relief effort.

The Independent witnessed volunteers from Birmingham working alongside militants from the group Lashkar-e Toiba just north of Muzaffarabad, where a mountain had collapsed on top of a village and Lashkar was running a makeshift ferry service to evacuate the wounded.

Lashkar is one of the Pakistani militant groups that Rashid Rauf has been linked to in newspaper reports. And Pakistan's Daily Times reported at the weekend that it was transfers of funds disguised as donations for Kashmir earthquake relief that first alerted intelligence services to the Pakistani side of the suspected plot.

Britain tipped-off Pakistani intelligence about huge sums of money being transferred from a UK-based charity to the private bank accounts of three individuals in Pakistan, marked "earthquake relief".

Those three men are now under arrest in Pakistan, and Rashid Rauf is believed to be one of them.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Pakistan's government and military were slow to act. The vacuum was filled by the Islamic militant groups who fight against Indian rule over part of Kashmir - and they were widely praised for the good job they did.

At the same time hundreds of Kashmiri volunteers arrived from Britain. There is no evidence the vast majority were there for any reason but to help their fellow Kashmiris. As one told The Independent at the time: "I came because these are my Kashmiri brothers". But reports of Kashmiri involvement in the London plot raises the question of whether any contacts were made at that time.

People of Kashmiri origin are the single largest group among Pakistani immigrants to Britain. Until now, Kashmiris have played little role in international Islamic militancy. Even inside Kashmir, although its "liberation" from Indian rule is a rallying cry for the militants, today there are few Kashmiris left in the armed groups, which are dominated by militants from other parts of Pakistan.

Remarkably little information has emerged from Pakistan about the arrests. Well-connected journalists are complaining that their usual sources have dried up, which is unusual in Pakistan, where the intelligence services like to boast to journalists of their successes.

Of at least 17 people arrested, only Rashid Rauf has been named. Conflicting accounts have emerged of his arrest, which has been placed in Karachi, Lahore, Bahawalpur, and on the Afghan border. Even the timing of the arrest is disputed. Most accounts say it took place about a week before the London arrests, but one newspaper, The Post, has reported he has been in custody a month-and-a-half.

He has been linked, in different reports, to several militant groups: Lashkar-e Toiba, Lashkar-e Jangvhi, Jaish-e Mohammed and al-Qa'ida - but those groups have been known to cooperate with each other.