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Pakistan tracked Al Qaeda Briton well before swoop

Reuters | August 12 2006

ISLAMABAD - Pakistani intelligence agents monitored telephone calls and e-mails of British Al Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf for some time before arresting the man they say was central to a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners.

A Pakistani security official said on Saturday Rauf had been put under surveillance after Britain’s secret service tipped off Islamabad that he was in Pakistan.

“He has been staying here for quite some time and he has been under strict surveillance since then,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

“His telephone calls to Britain and Internet communications have been under surveillance that helped in revealing the plot,” he added.

Pakistan announced on Friday it was holding Rauf, who it said was a “key person” in the aborted plot.

“He is a British citizen of Pakistani origin. He is an Al Qaeda operative with linkages in Afghanistan,” Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said.

Sherpao said Rauf’s arrest had led to a wave of arrests in Britain that headed off the alleged plot.

It was unclear if he was related to Tayib Rauf, one of 24 suspects arrested this week in Britain.

Intelligence officials said at least four more people had been arrested from the eastern district of Bahawalpur in connection with the foiled plot, raising the figure of suspects being held in Pakistan to 11, including at least two Britons. The names of the other suspects have not been released.

U.S. officials have said would-be suicide bombers were just days away from carrying out simultaneous attacks that one British police chief said would have amounted to “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”.

Officials pointed to similarities to the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking of U.S. airliners for attacks on New York and Washington, and to “Operation Bojinka”, a plan, never carried out, to blow up passenger planes over the Pacific Ocean in 1995.

A key figure in both was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the Al Qaeda operations planner arrested in Pakistan in 2003.

Several Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al Zawahri, are believed to be hiding in Pakistan or across the border in Afghanistan. The militant network has forged links with some Pakistani groups.

Pakistan said the alleged airliner plot was thwarted after active coordination between Pakistani, British and U.S. intelligence agencies.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair phoned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a crucial ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism since late 2001, and thanked him for Islamabad’s help in the case, the Foreign Ministry said.

At least two of the British Muslims involved in bomb attacks on the London transport network that killed 52 people in July last year had visited Pakistan months earlier, raising suspicions they had ties to militants in the country.

Pakistan has arrested hundreds of people it says are Al Qaeda members since 2001.


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