US drone strike reportedly kills British terror suspect

Other News Materials 22 November 2008 20:43 (UTC +04:00)

A fugitive British militant was among victims of a missile attack believed carried out by a US pilotless aircraft Saturday on a militant hideout in Pakistan's restive tribal region along the border with Afghanistan, Pakistani media reports said, dpa reported.

The attack killed five people and injured five more, Pakistani intelligence officials said. Local media reports said Rashid Rauf and another al-Qaeda terrorist, were killed.

Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, was once suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners, and had been on the run after escaping Pakistani custody.

Two Hellfire missiles demolished the house of local Taliban leader Khaliq Noor in Ali Khel village, 14 kilometres west of Mir Ali in the tribal district of North Waziristan, a known sanctuary of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

"According to our information, at least three of the five killed are foreigners," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Local television reported that an al-Qaeda-linked British terrorism suspect had died in the attack.

The Urdu-language Aaj, ARY and Geo news channels cited official sources as saying that Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, and another al-Qaeda terrorist, were killed.

However, a civilian government official in North Waziristan said "the report was 85-per-cent confirmed" and said investigations were still ongoing.

Rauf's name was mentioned in connection with a plot discovered on August 10, 2006, simultaneously to blow up seven airliners flying from Britain to the United States and Canada with homemade liquid explosives disguised as soft drinks.

The reports of the arrests of eight Islamic militants by Scotland Yard police in Britain created a major security alert and authorities halted air traffic for several days.

Rauf was arrested on a tip-off by British intelligence in Pakistan and was originally charged with carrying forged documents and possessing chemicals that could be used to make explosives.

The charges were later dismissed by a Pakistani court, but he remained in detention under Maintenance of Public Order while the authorities in Islamabad were considering request for his extradition by British government, which wanted to question him over the unsolved murder of his uncle in Birmingham in 2002.

Rauf managed to escape from his police guards in December 2007 on the way back to prison in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, and was on run since then.

His family had no confirmed information about his death in North Waziristan aerial attack.

"They told me on phone that they had learned it from media reports but no official had contacted them to confirm it," Rauf's lawyer Hashmat Habit said.

The family said that it would believe the claims of the Pakistani officials unless Rauf's body is handed over to them, he added.

"They told me that they did not believe he could have died together with some al-Qaeda terrorists. They said he was an Islamist but did not have any links with al-Qaeda," according to Habib.

Rauf was married with a relative of Maulana Masood Azhar, head of the banned terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammed (The Army of Mohammed), which has close ties with al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

US drone attacks have eliminated several al-Qaeda terrorists, and fighters linked to the network in the past two months, but high numbers of civilian deaths in them have fuelled anger in Pakistan.

The government in Islamabad said the actions violate its sovereignty and complicates its efforts to fight terrorism.

Saturday's airstrike came two days after the Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned US Ambassador Anne Patterson to lodge a formal protest over the first attack outside tribal region, in Bannu district of North-Western frontier Province.