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Time finds Kashmiri link to UK plot

The top US magazine claims a British suspect detained in Pak is connected to one of India's most wanted terrorists.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2006 10:59 IST

A British suspect detained in Pakistan in regard to the foiled plot to blow up US bound planes is connected to one of India's most wanted terrorists, Maulana Masood Azhar, according to Time magazine.

Azhar's family members told the American newsmagazine that the sister-in law of Rashid Rauf, 25, who Pakistani intelligence officers fingered early on as a "key suspect," is married to Azhar's brother, it said in a story from London.

In a further link, the father of Rauf's wife and her sister runs Darul Uloom Madina, one of Pakistan's biggest and most hardline seminaries, with some 2,000 students, in Bahawalpur, Azhar's hometown.

Rauf's arrest in Bahawalpur was one of the events that prompted British police to swoop in on the suspected London conspirators last Thursday for fear they would become suspicious if they lost contact with such a central figure in their plans.

Although Azhar, in his late 30s, is now in hiding, he continues to lead the militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, and is said to have been behind the 2004 assassination attempt of President Pervez Musharraf and several other terror attacks.

Azhar founded the group after he was released from an Indian prison in December 1999 in exchange for 155 passengers from a hijacked Indian airliner.

Another prisoner released at the same time was Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, a terrorist close to Jaish-e-Muhammad who was subsequently convicted of abducting US journalist Daniel Pearl and sentencing him to death.

At a rally in Karachi in January 2000, Azhar exhorted the crowd that "Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India."

While senior Pakistani officials do not believe Azhar is directly linked to recent terrorist activity in Pakistan or to Al-Qaeda, it is believed rebel members of his group are now forging links with Osama Bin Laden's Afghanistan-based network, Time said.

Rauf, who is believed to have two daughters, aged two and eight months, is known to have shuttled between his base in Pakistan and Kandahar and Paktia in Afghanistan.

Until 2002, he lived in Birmingham, England, but left after the murder of his uncle, which was never solved. His younger brother Tayib was one of two suspects arrested in Birmingham last week in the wave of British raids that has netted 24 people in total.

A charity called Crescent Relief founded by the Rauf's father Abdul, which collected money for last year's Pakistani earthquake relief, effort is also under the microscope.

Time quoted a London-based independent security analyst to say money was transferred from Crescent Relief late last year into three accounts belonging to suspects arrested in the UK and Pakistan in three separate banks in the Mirpur region of Kashmir.

The magazine also quoted a senior Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, as telling reporters in Islamabad that an Al-Qaeda leader based in Afghanistan masterminded the British plot.

While he did not identify the leader, the official suggested he was close to the rank of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a Libyan said to have been a high-ranking operative arrested in Pakistan in May last year and later turned over to the US.

But the direct involvement of Osama Bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahri on this particular plot was ruled out by the official.

First Published: Aug 19, 2006 10:23 IST