Terror suspect Rashid Rauf, wanted in Britain over alleged involvement in a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, was on the run in Pakistan yesterday amid accusations of official collusion in his disappearance.
Rauf managed to escape after freeing himself of his handcuffs as well as police guards after appearing before a judge over extradition proceedings which were expected to see him returned to the UK within weeks.
The British High Commission in Islamabad said the Pakistani interior minister, Hamid Nawaz, had insisted that the capture of 26-year-old Rauf was a "priority" matter and that an urgent investigation was under way.
But his lawyer, Hashamat Habib, claimed that his client's "mysterious disappearance" may be due to the Pakistani authorities' unwillingness to extradite Rauf for fear of possible links emerging between him and the country's intelligence service. He said: "He was under tight security; how it was possible that he escaped like that? Police took my client from Adiala jail on Saturday afternoon for a court appearance in Islamabad and now they say he has escaped. It comes at a time when the British government is trying to extradite him. And it all looks very suspicious to me."
Pakistani interior secretary Kamal Shah said "We are still trying to ascertain exactly where he managed to escape. The two constables are being interrogated for their criminal negligence. This is very sensitive matter, and therefore we have formed an extremely high-level team to investigate and file a report within three days." Other officials said that up to 12 policemen had been questioned over the matter.
According to reports the Pakistani government has demanded greater "reciprocity" in return for handing over Rauf. Islamabad had presented a list of demands, including the extradition of eight suspected members of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) which is fighting for independence for the province of Balochistan in the south-west of the country. It is also said to have urged the UK to ban the Islamist organisation Hisb-ut-Tahrir which has called for the overthrow of General Pervez Musharraf.
Rauf was arrested in Pakistan in August last year at the request of British authorities along with seven other suspects. He was allegedly part of a plot to carry peroxide based liquid explosives in drink containers, disguised as electronic devices, and combine them on board aircraft to trigger the blasts. He is also wanted for questioning in connection with the killing of his uncle, who was knifed to death in the west Midlands.
Rauf, who holds dual British and Pakistani nationalities, is married to a relation of Maulana Masood Azhar, the head and founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamist group which is said to be linked to al-Qa'ida. A brother-in-law, Masood Azhar, was jailed in India for terrorist attacks in Kashmir but then released along with among others, Omar Shiekh, later convicted over the kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.Reuse content