Hunt for Al Qaeda-linked militant after terror plot suspect interrogation

Last updated at 14:42 13 August 2006


Pakistan is hunting for a senior figure from an al-Qaida-linked militant group, after a suspect arrested here over the alleged plot to blow up jetliners flying from Britain to the U.S. named the militant during interrogation, intelligence officials said.

Matiur Rahman - a leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Pakistani Islamic militant group - is already wanted in connection with two assassination attempts on President General Pervez Musharraf in December 2003, attacks on minority Shiite Muslims and on Western targets in the southern city of Karachi.

It wasn't clear what role Rahman might have played. His name surfaced during the interrogation of at least one of the 17 suspects arrested in Pakistan in connection with the alleged plot to down as many as 10 U.S.-bound jetliners, an intelligence official said Saturday on condition of anonymity because of his secretive job.

"Matiur Rahman is on the run, but we will find him," said the official, describing him as a "very dangerous person."

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is one of the most feared militant outfits in Pakistan. It is most often associated with sectarian attacks, including suicide bombings in mosques, but its operatives have also had ties with al-Qaida.

Lashkar fighters in the past were trained in camps in Afghanistan and have joined terror attacks sanctioned by al-Qaida, including the December 2003 bombings targeting Musharraf, which he escaped unhurt but killed 17 others.

Intelligence officials say Rahman is believed to have had contacts with al-Qaida in recent years.

Government officials declined Saturday to comment about him, but have identified Rashid Rauf, a British Muslim who was captured about a week ago from the eastern district of Bhawalpur, as a "key person" in the aircraft plot, and alleged he has ties with al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Rauf, whose brother Tayib Rauf was arrested in Britain, was presented before a judge in Pakistan on Saturday who allowed authorities to hold him for questioning, an Interior Ministry official said.

The official declined to say when and where the hearing took place, or whether the suspect would face trial in Pakistan or be extradited to Britain.

An informer working for Britain's security agency in Pakistan provided the tip that helped Pakistan arrest Rauf, the official said.

The arrest of Rauf prompted an associate of his to make a telephone call from Pakistan's southern city of Karachi to Britain urging plotters to go ahead with attacks. The call was intercepted and triggered arrests in Britain on Thursday when the alleged plot was exposed, a security official said.

"This telephone call intercept in Karachi and the arrest of Rashid Rauf helped a lot to foil the terror plan," the security official said, requesting anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Pakistan is a key ally of Britain and the U.S. in their war on terrorism, but remains a hotbed for Islamic radicals.

Three of the four suicide attackers in the July 7, 2005, bombings on the London transport system that killed 52 people were British Muslims of Pakistani origin and had visited Pakistan before the attacks.

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