Bomb-plot planner still alive, claims al-Qa’ida
THE alleged al-Qa’ida mastermind of the plot to bomb trans-Atlantic aircraft, Briton Rashid Rauf, is still alive, his lawyer claimed last night, amid reports that the terrorist organisation’s leaders are being forced to flee to new hideouts in Pakistan because of US unmanned drone attacks.
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Western diplomats were quoted as saying a recent drone strike was launched after intelligence was received that Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was in the area.
Al-Qa’ida’s main link with the Taliban, an Arab identified as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi, was killed as the Hellfire missiles fired from the Predator drones struck a compound on the outskirts of Bannu, a key garrison town near Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas. Security sources said Zawahiri was not there.
But intelligence gathered by both US and Pakistani agencies — particularly since last weekend’s onslaught in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency, in which Rauf and Egyptian bomb-maker and bin Laden aide Abu Zabair al-Masri are said to have been killed — indicates that “al-Qa’ida’s principal leaders are moving away from the tribal belt because of the intensity of the drone strikes”.
US and Pakistani officials are convinced that Rauf, a 27-year-old former British bakery delivery driver, was killed in the attack. However, his lawyer insisted last night that reports of his death were false.
“We don’t believe that this story is true. It’s a fake story,” lawyer Hashmat Ali Habib told the BBC world service.
“We still believe that my client Rashid is alive.”
He said that requests for Rauf’s body to be returned to his family — a hallowed principle in Islam — had gone unanswered.
Britain’s The Times suggested yesterday that it was explosives expert Masri, rather than Rauf, who was the main target of the drone attack. The newspaper said Masri had been holding an “operational meeting” with four other key figures when the drones struck.
Outrage in Pakistan over thedrone onslaught gathered momentum last night when cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan led a protest rally in Islamabad and accused the country’s Government of having “become a slave of the US (that) carries out its orders”.
At the same time, security officials in the key provincial capital of Peshawar claimed to have killed more than 25 militants and captured 40.