MUSHARRAF'S JIHADI STRIPTEASE
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.324
B.RAMAN Even as President Pervez Musharraf was telling his people over a televised address on December 15,2007, that he had imposed an Emergency on November 3,2007, in order to deal with a serious terrorism situation and that he had removed it on the afternoon of December 15,2007, since the situation had improved, Pakistani Police were telling journalists that Rashid Rauf, a British resident of Mirpuri origin, whom they had been projecting as the mastermind, who was orchestrating the plot discovered by the British Police in August,2006, to simultaneously blow up 10 US-bound planes, has escaped from custody.
2. The "News" of December 16,2007, has carried the following details: " Rashid Rauf, wanted by the UK for a conspiracy to blow up aircraft in London, escaped from police custody on Saturday (December 15), SSP Islamabad Syed Kalim Imam confirmed to The News.He said the accused was brought to Islamabad district courts from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi at about 1.30 pm. The accused, he said, escaped from the court premises. He said he was informed by the concerned police about Rauf’s escape at 6 pm. Sources, however, told The News that the police high-ups were informed about the escape of Rashid Rauf by the superintendent jail at 9:30 pm after he found that the accused has not returned to the jail. Two police officials have been arrested on suspicion of helping the accused flee, the SSP said. Rashid Rauf, a British suspect in an alleged plot to blow up trans Atlantic jetliners, escaped after appearing before a judge in Islamabad, said Khalid Pervez, a city police official.Pervez said Rauf managed to open his handcuffs and evade two police guards who were taking him back to jail.Rauf, who also has a Pakistani passport, was arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in August (2006) on a tip from their British counterparts.Rauf was arrested and charged in Pakistan with possessing chemicals that could be used in making explosives and with carrying forged travel documents.The prosecution later withdrew the case against him and held him accountable only for possessing bomb-making materials and living in Pakistan without valid documents. Later, a higher court — acting on an appeal by Pakistani authorities — suspended the anti-terrorism court’s ruling until Jan. 15.A judge then extended his detention until January 19.Rauf had remained in jail awaiting a decision on a British extradition request. He had arrived in Pakistan soon after his uncle was stabbed to death in 2002, and British authorities had asked Pakistan to extradite Rauf in connection with the murder inquiry.His lawyer, Hashmat Habib, has sought to block the move, saying the two countries did not have an extradition treaty and that Rashid had already been found innocent of involvement in terrorism.Habib said Saturday that his client had been brought to court in connection with the extradition proceedings, but he did not know how Rauf had escaped.It may be mentioned that the British media had alleged that Rauf was being swapped under a deal between the Pakistani and United Kingdom authorities for two Baloch Liberation Army members recently detained in London."
3. Rashid Rauf's alleged escape brings to mind the alleged escape of Riaz Basra, of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who was arrested by the Pakistani authorities during the investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the journalist of the "Wall Street Journal" in January-February,2002. The Police subsequently claimed that Basra was killed in an encounter with the Police. It is significant that Rauf's alleged escape came three weeks before the elections to the National Assembly. Don't be surprised if Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping of Pearl, and A.Q.Khan, the nuclear proliferator, also escape before a new Government takes over. Musharraf and his cronies are worried that if Mrs.Benazir Bhutto becomes the Prime Minister, she might try to hand them over to the Western agencies.
4.Read my following comments extracted from my past writings on the alleged Britrish plot: There was considerable skepticism in informed circles in Pakistan, including the Police, over claims made by the British, US and Pakistani authorities of having thwarted a planned Al Qaeda terrorist strike of catastrophic potential by blowing up 10 US-bound aircraft simultaneously. The details of the plot were announced by the British Police on August 10,2006. During the sermons following the Friday prayers in the mosques and madrasas in the tribal areas of Pakistan on August 11, 2006, the British and American claims were debunked and Musharraf was accused of helping the British and the Americans in their attempts to spread a canard. The speakers compared this to what they described as the canard spread by the US and the UK about Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before invading that country in 2003 and the dramatic claims about an Al Qaeda plot made by the US' Homeland Security Department before the US Presidential elections of 2004 in order to swing the election results in favour of President George Bush.
5.Delivering a Friday sermon at the Jamia Mosque Mansoorah at Lahore on August 11, 2006, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) President and the Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, said that “the hoax of the bombing plan in passenger planes is a well-orchestrated US and UK ploy to divert the attention of world media from the humiliation meted out to Zionist forces at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon.” He added that “it is shameful that Islamabad is unilaterally taking credit for extending a helping hand in arresting or unveiling the so called terror plan in American and British planes for which no independent confirmation has yet been made.”
6.The skepticism was not confined to the jihadi circles. It was also evident in an editorial carried by the "Daily Times" on August 12, 2006. It said inter alia: "Whatever the case, a terrorist act on the alleged scale and coordination would have required months — if not a couple of years — of planning. This means that intelligence operatives, whether in Pakistan, Britain or the US, did not immediately pounce on these men, but kept them under watch for a long time and allowed the plot to unfold. This would have required a major effort and the agencies must have got a lot of information while tracking these suspects and intercepting their communications. We flag this point because the lack of information following the bust does not square, either with the commotion in the foreign media or the fact that the intelligence agencies in Pakistan or abroad should have the low-down on these people and be happy to share it with the media.”
7.It continued: "The argument that little information is being given because the intelligence agencies do not want to alert other terrorist cells does not wash. The arrests, as we have noted, seem to have come after a patient sting operation and the alleged terrorists were caught just as the plot entered its final phase. In the event, there is no more that the intelligence operatives can do now; as for other terrorist cells, the arrests themselves would force them to scatter, abandon their plans and lie low for a fairly long time.
8."We say this because the arrests by the Canadian authorities of dozens of people some months ago have proved to be trumped-up. Similarly, this revelation comes close on the heels of the disappearance of 11 Egyptians in the US. There is also a horrible war going on in Lebanon and it is not unfolding in favour of Israel, the US and UK. Iraq has gone bad; Afghanistan is getting worse. The Bush-Blair duo is in trouble at home and both need something really big to happen to justify their policies and distract attention from their losses. True, this argument comes dangerously close to the realm in which conspiracy theories reside, but the past record of intelligence agencies everywhere suggests they are quite capable of blowing up or underplaying things for better media management of their respective governments’ performance. So a bit of skepticism is in order.
9."Of course, there is every possibility that MI5, with ISI’s help, have captured a hoard of terrorists and no conspiracy is afoot to distract attention from Lebanon and Iraq and Afghanistan. But if that is the case then we must be given much more credible information by the UK and Pakistan governments than we have received so far,” it concluded.
10.As the British and American authorities downgraded the security level at airports after some days of dramatic high alert when tens of thousands of passengers were put to great inconvenience and as the fear and excitement caused by the British Police disclosure of the discovery of the plot died down, it became apparent that neither the British nor the Americans had been able to find any smoking gun ----in the form of chemicals procured for making explosives, purchase of air tickets etc. However,the British claimed to have recovered from the arrested persons recorded cassettes containing the farewell statements of one or two of the would-be suicide bombers.
11.Twenty-five suspects were detained by the British Police in connection with the alleged conspiracy. One of them was released on the ground that he was detained by mistake.The CNN reported on August 14,2006: "The British security sources suggested that some of the suspects being held may be released without charge. The sources said there may not be sufficient evidence to justify holding them."
12.Skepticism about the plot further increased after some analysts expressed doubts whether such a small group of less than 20 persons would have been able to carry out a catastrophic plot of such dimension. The only possible conclusion was that either there was unwarranted hype in the initial announcement or many, who were actually involved in the plot, managed to give the slip to the police.
13.The hype about the plans of the arrested persons to use liquid explosives was also unwise and unwarranted. It was initially made to appear as if it was a dangerously novel way of causing explosions on board aircraft by escaping detection by the airport security. This over-dramatisation caused chaos in air traffice right across the world.It was known since 1995 that the jihadi terrorists were experimenting with liquid explosives. The alleged 2006 plot was nothing but a copy-cat version of Bojinka-1995 plotted by Ramzi Yousef, now in jail in the US for his involvement in the February,1993, explosion at the New York World Trade Centre, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), now in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba facing trial for his alleged role in the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US..
14.Bojinka--1995 failed to take off due to an accidental fire in Ramzi's Manila apartment, which alerted the Police. When the details of the plot were discovered by the Filipino police, neither the Bill Clinton administration in the US nor the John Major Government in the UK tried to draw political propaganda mileage out of it by indulging in orchestrated hype. They played it down in public and left it to their counter-terrorism professionals to handle the sequel in a low-profile manner.
15.After the fire in his apartment, Ramzi ran away to Pakistan where he was arrested some months later and handed over to the FBI for trial in connection with the February,1993 case. Subsequently, it came out that during his detention in a US jail while facing trial, the Justice Department had persuaded Greg Scapra, a jail-mate, to develop friendship with Ramzi and sound him as to how to make liquid explosives. It was reported that Ramzi not only told him orally, but also gave him hand-written notes, explaining how to smuggle the liquids into aircraft, how to mix them on board aircraft to make explosives and how to detonate them. This was in 1996.
16.Thus, for nearly 11 years, it was well known that the jihadi terrorists were thinking of blowing up many aircraft with liquid explosives, which could be smuggled into aircraft without being detected.And yet, no attempt was made to find ways of stopping terrorists from carrying into aircraft liquids capable of being converted into explosives. While billions of dollars were spent and hundreds of seminars held on protection against weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism and maritime terrorism, hardly any research was done on protecting civilians from liquid and other new forms of conventional explosives.
17.Mr. Douglas J.Hagmann, a US Security Analyst, who was the Director of an online anti-terrorism think-tank (www.homelandsecurityus.com), wrote: "As information is being made public about the plot to blow up US planes from the skies, we can almost hear the collective gasps of surprise and horror from people, even from some within our government. This plot should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention of events over the last ten years. More importantly, our government, and those in charge of protecting the flying public had well over a decade to prepare against this VERY threat, yet little has been done, and our public safety officials are seen scrambling around as if they were taken completely by surprise."
18.The hype in London and Washington after the discovery of Bojinka--2006 was reminiscent of similar past instances of hype either to cover up past inaction or inadequacies or to divert attention from other issues of a political nature. Over-dramatisation of threat perceptions, over-demonisation of suspects even before collecting evidence and over-projection of the role of Musharraf in the so-called war against terrorism have become the defining characteristics of the counter-terrorism strategy followed by the UK and the USA.
19.The evidence, which became available from reliable police sources in Pakistan, corroborated only the following facts: FACT 1: Four or five of those detained by the British Police had gone to Pakistan after the earthquake of October,2005, in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and in the Balakote area of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to do humanitarian relief work in camps run by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the parent organisation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET).
FACT 2: A pro-Al Qaeda organisation took them to its training camp in the Waziristan area, trained them in the fabrication and use of explosives and dropped them back in the JUD quake relief camps.It was not clear whether they contacted the organization and sought training or whether it contacted them and motivated them to join its jihad against the West.
FACT 3: Before returning to London, they met Omar Sheikh, who master-minded the kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl, in his jail in Sindh.Since nobody can meet him without the permission of the jail authorities, the latter must have been aware of their meeting with him and what was discussed. One did not know whether they immediately alerted the British authorities .
20.Despite the skepticism in some Pakistani police circles, the Pakistani authorities, in their official account, sought to corroborate the British version of a Bojinka-type plot. At the same time, they tried to project the whole plot, which, according to them, was to have been co-ordinated by Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Mirpuri (Punjabi-speaking Kashmiri) origin, who was arrested by them, as having originated in the mind of Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda elements. This claim was rebutted by the Afghan authorities, who rightly pointed out that the remnants of Al Qaeda were in Pakistani territory in Waziristan and not in Afghanistan.The Pakistani authorities denied any role of Maitur Rehman, of the LEJ, who is a Pakistani citizen, in the plot as alleged by some British and American experts. Maitur Rehman was also projected as the Amir of the Jundullah, but subsequent evidence indicated that there was no organization by that name.
21.Rashid Rauf was reportedly absconding from the UK since 2002 when his uncle was allegedly murdered. It was alleged that suspecting his involvement in the murder, the British Police had at that time searched his house. Where was he hiding all these years? In Pakistan? If so, where was he in Pakistan and what was he doing?
22.Whenever the Pakistani authorities had arrested any foreign terrorist suspect in the past, they had immediately handed him over to the US authorities, who flew him out of Pakistan for interrogation. The only instance in the past in which the Pakistani authorities did not do this was in respect of Omar Sheikh. For reasons which are not clear till now, they have not handed him over to the US for questioning in connection with the kidnapping and murder of Pearl.
23.Surprisingly, in the case of Rashid Rauf also, the Pakistani authorities did not take action to hand him over to the British for interrogation. Instead, they produced him before a court, which they never did in the past in the case of terrorist suspects handed over to the Americans. One would have thought the British would have been eager to question him immediately in order to find out whether there were other members of the plot, who might be at large.Similarly, one would have thought that the Americans would have been equally eager to take him into their custody and question him regarding the whereabouts of bin Laden and Zawahiri. But, neither the British nor the Americans showed any alacrity in wanting to do so. Why?
24.Musharraf and his officials proclaimed that it was Pakistan, which discovered the plot and alerted the British about it on August 9,2006. But, what strip-tease they did about Rashid Rauf! 25.They said that he was arrested while crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan a week before the British announcement. Sections of the Pakistani media reported that he was actually arrested in Bahawalpur in southern Punjab on August 8. He had acquired an expensive house there and married the sister-in-law (wife's sister) of Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). 26.After the publication of the report on his arrest in Bahawalpur, the Pakistani officials changed their version. They said they had actually arrested an associate of Rashid Rauf while he was crossing over into Pakistan from Afghanistan and he had led them to Rashid in Bahawalpur. They did not give the name of this associate. They said that the entire plot was conceived by the No.3 of Al Qaeda who, according to them, was based in Afghanistan, but they could not give his name except to say that he was close to Zawahiri.
27.Then, they said it was actually a son-in-law of Zawahiri, who conceived the plot and tried to use Rashid to have it executed. They gave the name of the so-called son-in-law. When it was pointed out to them that this son-in-law was reported by them earlier in 2006 to have been killed in an American air raid in the Bajaur tribal agency, they went silent. Musharraf advised his agencies not to give any more briefings to the media.
28.Musharraf suddenly become a stickler for the law. In the past, the Pakistani authorities had informally handed over to the Americans without following the due process of the law Mir Aimal Kansi, Ramzi Yousef, Abu Zubaidah, Ramzi Binalshib, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Faraj al-Libi and many others without informing their courts about their arrests.Abu Faraj was handed over despite the fact that he was reported to be the principal accused in the case relating to the plot to kill Musharraf in December,2003.
29.In the case of Rashid Rauf, they followed the entire procedure as laid down in the law. They informed a court of his arrest. They produced him before a magistrate and obtained his remand in police custody for interrogation. They reportedly requested the British for a formal written application for handing him over so that they could put it up to the Magistrate for orders. They kept getting his continued detention by the Police approved by their courts under some pretext or the other. They reportedly told the British that they could hand him over to them only if the British handed over a Baloch nationalist leader, who was in the UK.
30.Any police would have been anxious to question him as urgently as possible in order to neutralise any other threat before it materialised, but not the British. They showed remarkable patience for months, while the Pakistanis delayed handing him over .
31.Rashid Rauf may well go down in history as an alleged terrorist mastermind, whom nobody wanted to interrogate. The Pakistanis did not want to interrogate him too much lest their duplicity be exposed.The British and the Americans did not want to be in a hurry to interrogate lest their own gullibility be exposed.Moreover, they faced another danger.If it came out that they again let themselves be taken for a ride by Musharraf not only will their credibility be in ruins, but they may even face claims for damages from airline companies and passengers, who incurred losses amounting to billions of dollars as a result of the drama staged by the British police.
32. The only way of avoiding all this is to persist with the drama and to go on showering encomiums and lollipops on Musharraf. It would be dangerous to admit that he was a trickster, who took them for a ride. Better to let him go down in history as the world's greatest warrior against terrorism and as the hero of the discovery of a plot to blow up 10 US-bound planes.
33. They sink or swim with Their Man in Islamabad. The US and the UK are no longer the only two in Musharraf's leaking boat. Now they have a third occupant---India through Shri M.K.Narayanan, its National Security Adviser. Musharraf is also Shri Narayanan's man in Islamabad for whom he has a grudging respect.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )