As more details surface regarding the recent London terrorism plot to destroy U.S. bound airliners over the Atlantic Ocean, Pakistani and British security officials remain fixated on the group’s alleged ringleader, Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin with roots in Kashmir, currently held in Pakistan. Initial reports tied Rauf to the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) militant group. Rauf’s association with JeM allegedly stems from marriage ties that link him to the JeM’s founder and leader, Maulana Masood Azhar. Both men are reportedly married to two sisters from the same family (Dawn, August 23; The Hindu, August 20). Regional coverage initially claimed that Pakistani security forces arrested Rauf in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, a JeM stronghold. An official statement by Islamabad later mentioned that Rauf was actually apprehended in Rawalpindi and that due to the sensitive nature of the case, all of the pertinent details could not be divulged. Rauf, who also holds Pakistani citizenship, remains in Pakistani custody, although some reports claim that Islamabad has agreed to extradite him to Great Britain in the near future (Dawn, September 1).
According to Ismail Hamza, an aide to Azhar, Rauf was never a member of JeM nor was he ever associated in any way with the group’s leader (Dawn, August 18). Pakistani officials later refuted allegations of Rauf’s links to JeM and instead tied him to ranking al-Qaeda elements operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Abu Faraj al-Libbi. Al-Libbi was described as al-Qaeda’s number three in command after Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri prior to his arrest in Pakistan in May 2005. Others dispute these claims and label al-Libbi as a middle-ranking player who maintained little or no contact with the upper echelons of al-Qaeda. Al-Libbi was also tied to an assassination attempt on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (The News International, August 27). Pakistani officials also link some of Rauf’s alleged contacts in Pakistan to al-Libbi and al-Qaeda. In an effort to emphasize Rauf’s al-Qaeda links, Islamabad went on to say that JeM no longer exists and that marriage ties to members of JeM and its affiliates do not necessarily translate into membership in the group (The Nation, August 12; The Hindu, August 20). Pakistani Interior Ministry sources also reported that Rauf had already confessed to what they described as an “association” with al-Qaeda, but they have yet to provide more details (Daily Times, August 21).
Mystery continues to shroud Rauf’s alleged role in the plot. Although Rauf remains in custody, Pakistani officials have yet to formally implicate him on terrorism charges, despite public claims pointing to his links to ranking members of al-Qaeda. He is currently being held on minor charges that have yet to be disclosed (Dawn, August 27). Given the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the case, some observers suggest that Islamabad may be exploiting the recent events by exaggerating Rashid Rauf’s role in the conspiracy in order to counter critics in Washington who believe Pakistan is not doing enough in the war against al-Qaeda.