Al-Qaida jetliner plot suspect believed killed in Pakistan

There was no independent corroboration of the death Saturday of Rashid Rauf, which would be a major blow to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Rashid Rauf 88 (photo credit: )
Rashid Rauf 88
(photo credit: )
A British citizen linked to a plot to blow up jetliners flying across the Atlantic was killed by a suspected US missile attack on an al-Qaida redoubt near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said. There was no independent corroboration of the death Saturday of Rashid Rauf, which would be a major blow to al-Qaida and Taliban extremists believed sheltering in the lawless region. It would also bolster US claims that missile strikes on extremist strongholds in northwestern Pakistan are protecting the West against another Sept. 11-style terrorist attack. Three Pakistani intelligence officials and a senior government official, citing reports from field agents as well as intercepted militant communications, said Rauf and a Saudi militant called Abu Zubair al-Masri were among five killed in Saturday's raid in North Waziristan. "We got it confirmed from our own sources," said one of the officials, who declined to give more details. All four spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the media and the sensitivity of the issue. Information Minister Sherry Rehman confirmed that Rauf and al-Misri were targeted in the raid. She did not elaborate. Rehman reiterated her government's complaint that missile attacks, apparently launched from unmanned aircraft, are fanning anti-Americanism and Islamic extremism tearing at both Pakistan and Afghanistan. "It would have been better if our authorities had been alerted for local action," Rehman told The Associated Press. "Drone incursions create a strong backlash." Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, has been on the run since last December, when he escaped from police escorting him back to jail after an extradition hearing in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Britain was seeking his extradition ostensibly as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, but Rauf had allegedly been in contact with a group in Britain planning to smuggle liquid explosives onto trans-Atlantic flights and also with a suspected al-Qaida mastermind of the plot in Afghanistan. North Waziristan is one of the tribal areas where Taliban fighters operate out of bases to stage attacks across the border into Afghanistan and lies in the rugged frontier region where al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden may be hiding. A Taliban spokesman insisted that only civilians were killed in the pre-dawn missile attack in the village of Ali Khel, which lies in an area long reputed as a militant stronghold. "None was a foreigner," Ahmedullah Ahmedi said in a statement delivered to reporters in Miran Shah, the region's main town. In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said he had no information on the attack. A State Department duty officer said they don't comment on military matters. U.S. forces based in Afghanistan are suspected of having carried out about 20 missile attacks in northwestern Pakistan since August, reflecting American impatience at Islamabad's efforts to curb militants on its own soil. American authorities rarely confirm or deny individual attacks, much less comment on the target, Still, senior US officials have defended the tactic and said it has eliminated several top al-Qaida operatives in recent months.