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Monday, August 14, 2006

Pakistan: Terror 'ringleader' admits al-Qaeda link

Mail & Guardian: The suspected ringleader of the alleged plot to blow up flights out of London's Heathrow airport has provided details that directly link the conspiracy to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said on Sunday. The Interior Minister, Aftab Sherpao, said Rashid Rauf gave investigators "many, many clues which link this plan with Afghanistan, especially the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden".

He said Rauf was brought before a court and remanded in custody for a further two weeks.

Rauf, a British citizen, was held last week in Pakistan and has been pinpointed by security sources in the United Kingdom and Pakistan as the plot's prime mover. British officials said moves are under way to extradite him to Britain.

Tasneem Aslam, the Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson, said on Sunday night that information from Rauf had led to last week's arrests in Britain, which included his brother Tayib, and confirmed that the plot was believed to have originated with "al-Qaeda based in Afghanistan".

Intelligence sources suggested that Rauf was believed to have spent time in Lahore with members of the radical group al-Muhajiroun, now a proscribed organisation in Britain.

Members of the group, who were supposedly in the country to do welfare work with earthquake victims, were required to leave when it transpired that they were British citizens. On Sunday, there were unconfirmed reports in The Nation newspaper that Rauf had been seeking to contact Matiur Rehman, who is wanted for an assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf and has a 10-million rupee bounty on his head. But though Rehman has been named in the UK as a possible mastermind of the plot, this was played down on Sunday by security officials in both countries.

The investigation is continuing in Pakistan with further arrests -- said to number between seven and 20 -- understood to have taken place in the past few days.

The foreign ministry spokesperson described reports of how the alleged plot had been funded by an earthquake charity as "speculation and fabrication".

Reports in Pakistani newspapers on Sunday that Rauf had "broken" under interrogation were described by a Pakistani human rights group as confirmation that he had been tortured. Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said it was obvious how the information had been obtained. "I don't deduce, I know -- torture," she said. "There is simply no doubt about that, no doubt at all."

She said it is difficult to get information on the identities and circumstances of those held. "Gone are the days when you could take at face value what the government was saying." She said often detainees' families are not notified of their whereabouts and they might be provided with lawyers who are close to the government.

Talat Masood, a leading political and security analyst, said one reason that the Pakistan security services had been able to penetrate organisations planning attacks was that they and the United States security services had links with them stretching back to the conflict between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. At that time, the US and Pakistan backed the same guerrilla groups fighting the Soviet Union.

"They have been using them in the past; there was a very close relationship," he said. He echoed the views of many in Pakistan that if the issues in the Middle East were not addressed, such plots would continue. "All these events today are totally inter-related -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon," he said. "Until all of those are resolved, we can expect more of the same."

Pakistan feels that its commitment to tackling such plots is sometimes not given full credit, he said. "Over 600 Pakistani troops have died in Afghanistan, more than any other country has lost, and 700 top militants handed over, and there are 80 000 troops there," he said.

In Kabul, Afghanistan's foreign ministry denied any Afghan connection. "As the recent evidences and ongoing investigations have revealed, al-Qaeda continues to enjoy safe haven outside Afghanistan," the ministry said, calling Pakistan's allegation "diversionary".

Afghanistan has long complained that militants are able to hide out on Pakistan's side of the border. -- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
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