Thursday, April 23, 2009

THE CURIOUS CASE OF RASHID RAUF (6-12-2006)

B. Raman

Rashid Rauf is from a Mirpuri family of Birmingham. The Mirpuris are the Punjabi-speaking residents of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). He disappeared from the UK in 2002 after the British Police suspected him in connection with the murder of one of his relatives in Birmingham. Their search for him did not produce any clues---either in the UK or in Pakistan.

2. Then, suddenly, on August 9, 2006, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) claimed to have picked him up from a house in Bhawalpur, southern Punjab, which he had bought after coming to Pakistan in 2002. He had married a woman related by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which was involved in the aborted attack on the Indian Parliament in December, 2001.

3. The Pakistani authorities claimed that he was in close touch with Al Qaeda and that it was his arrest that gave them an inkling regarding the imminence of the plot of a group of jihadi extremists based in the UK to blow up a number of US-bound planes. The discovery of the conspiracy and the arrest of many UK-based suspects were then announced by the British Police. The final results of their investigation are not yet known.

4. Since Rashid Rauf was projected by the Pakistani authorities as the most important player in the plot and as the man, whose arrest led to the unearthing of the planned terrorist conpiracy in the UK, one would have thought that his being handed-over to the British for interrogation would have been of the highest priority to the British investigating authorities. But, no action has been taken so far. The Pakistani media had reported that a team of British Police officers had visited Pakistan to question him, but it is not clear whether Rashid was questioned by them and, if so and if his questioning did indicate his involvement in the plot, why they have not so far moved for his extradition.

5. It is clear from the facts available so far that as with Omar Sheikh, the principal accused in the case relating to the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, in the beginning of 2002, and Dr. A. Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist with links with Iran, North Korea, Libya and Al Qaeda, in the case of Rashid Rauf too, the Pakistani authorities are avoiding handing him over to the British or American investigators.

6. Reliable police sources in Pakistan say that the reluctance of Gen. Pervez Musharraf to hand over Rashid Rauf to the UK or US is due to the fear that his independent interrogation by them might bring out that Rashid Rauf was aware of the training of some of the perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts of July, 2006, in which over 180 suburban train commuters were killed, in a camp of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Bhawalpur and that the ISI was aware of his presence in Bhawalpur ever since 2002, when he fled to Pakistan from the UK. These police sources say that the ISI's contention that it came to know of his presence only in the beginning of August, 2006, is not correct.

7. The Government of Pakistan told a court on October 30, 2006, that Rashid Rauf had been detained under the Security of Pakistan Act. A Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorism Judge, Justice Safdar Hussain Malik, passed orders on November 21, 2006, approving his judicial custody in the Adiala jail. This could rule out his early transfer to the British Police for interrogation.

8. Under the joint anti-terrorism mechanism recently set up by the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan, India should also request the Pakistani authorities for permission to interrogate him on the LET training camp in Bahawalpur. If Pakistan refuses to co-operate, the international community should be informed about it.

9. Extracts relating to Rashid Rauf from some of my past reports are annexed.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com )

ANNEXURE

EXTRACTS RELATING TO RASHID RAUF FROM MY PAST REPORTS

Musharraf and his officials proclaimed that it was Pakistan, which discovered the plot and alerted the British about it on August 9. They projected Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, as the chief co-ordinator of the plot on behalf of the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. What strip-tease they have been playing about Rashid Rauf! They said he was arrested while crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan a week before the British announcement. Sections of the Pakistani media reported that he was actually arrested in Bahawalpur in southern Punjab on August 8. He had acquired an expensive house there and married the sister-in-law (wife's sister) of Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), which was designated by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in December, 2001. After the publication of the report of his arrest in Bahawalpur, the Pakistani officials changed their version. They said they had actually arrested an associate of Rashid Rauf while crossing over into Pakistan from Afghanistan and he led them to Rashid in Bahawalpur. They have not given the name of this associate. They said that the entire plot was conceived by the No.3 of Al Qaeda who, according to them, is based in Afghanistan, but they could not give his name except to say he was close to No.2 Zawahiri. Then, they said it was actually a son-in-law of Zawahiri, who conceived the plot and tried to use Rashid to have it executed. They gave the name of the so-called son-in-law. When it was pointed out to them that this son-in-law was reported by them earlier this year to have been killed in an American air raid in the Bajaur tribal agency, they have gone silent. Musharraf has advised his agencies not to give any more briefings to the media. Musharraf has suddenly become a stickler for the law. In the past, the Pakistani authorities had informally handed over to the Americans without following the due process of the law Mir Aimal Kansi, Ramzi Yousef, Abu Zubaidah, Ramzi Binalshib, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Faraj al-Libi and many others without informing their courts about their arrests. Abu Faraj was handed over despite the fact that he was the principal accused in the case relating to the plot to kill Musharraf in December,2003. In the case of Rashid Rauf, they are following the entire procedure as laid down in the law. They informed a court of his arrest. They produced him before a magistrate and obtained his remand in police custody for interrogation. They have reportedly requested the British for a formal written application for handing him over so that they can put it up to the Magistrate for orders. A British police team is waiting in Islamabad patiently for an opportunity to question him. Any police would have been anxious to question him as urgently as possible in order to neutralise any other threat before it materialises, but not the British. It is now 10 days since the plot was discovered, but the British are yet to interrogate the so-called principal co-ordinator of it. They are showing remarkable patience. It is like a clip in slow motion from a Charlie Chaplin movie. The whole case relating to Rashid is moving at a pace which would make the proverbial snail look a great sprinter. Rashid Rauf may well go down in history as the terrorist, whom nobody wanted to interrogate. The Pakistanis don't want to interrogate him too much lest their duplicity be exposed.The British and the Americans don't want to be in a hurry to interrogate lest their own gullibility be exposed.Moreover, there is a great danger if it comes out that they again let themselves be taken for a ride by Musharraf.Not only will their credibility be in ruins, but they may even face claims for damages from airline companies and passengers, who incurred losses amounting to billions of dollars as a result of the drama staged by the British police. (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers20/paper1920.html)

Bahawalpur, which is the home-town of Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), has generally been known as the stronghold of the JEM, but the LET too has a training camp there, which is run by Azam Cheema, a Pakistani national. Azam Cheema alias Baba, who is No.3 in the LET of Pakistan and reportedly co-ordinates its operations in India, is Professor of Islamiat at a degree college of Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab. Abu Zubaidah, the No.3 in Al Qaeda, was arrested by the Pakistani authorities in March, 2002, in the house of an LET operative in Faislabad. The US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had come to know of his having been given shelter by the LET in Faislabad. The ISI arrested him, at the prodding of the CIA, and he was flown out of Pakistan by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for interrogation. At that time, there were reports that Azam Cheema had brought Abu Zubaidah to Faislabad after he had escaped from Afghanistan and organised shelter for him there. Despite this, he was not arrested by the Pakistani authorities and Cheema continued to co-ordinate the operations of the LET in India. The presence of an LET training camp in Bahawalpur came to notice during the interrogation of two LET operatives ---Feroz Abdul Latif Ghaswala alias Abdullah and Mohammad Chippa alias Ubedullah---arrested by the Delhi police in May, 2006. Their interrogation also brought out that they were taken to Teheran via Dhaka with valid visas and immigration stamps on their passports and then clandestinely taken by road from Teheran into Balochistan and then to Bahawalpur for the training. They returned to India after the training by the same route. It would appear that the Indian members of the LET, who had participated in the Mumbai blasts of July 11, 2006, had also travelled to Bahawalpur via Teheran for training with valid Iranian visas and immigration stamps, but with no entries regarding their further travel from Teheran to Bahawalpur via Balochistan. It is interesting to recall that the three British citizens of Pakistani origin, who carried out the London blasts of July, 2005, were also reported to have visited Bahawalpur and that Rashid Rauf, a Mirpuri absconder wanted in a murder case of Birmingham, who was reported by the Pakistani authorities to have acted as a cut-out with an Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda leader in planning the operation to blow up some US-bound planes in August, was arrested in Bahawalpur, where he had been living for three years in a house bought by him. He had married a woman related to Maulana Masood Azhar (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers20/paper1971.html)

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