British extremist Rashid Rauf was linked to attacks and plots on the UK and US, including the July 7 2005 bombings in London and the 2006 liquid bomb air plot. He fled to Pakistan in 2002 and was wanted by both Britain and US for several years before his death in a drone strike in 2008.
Reports suggest Rauf was born in 1981 in either Mirpur in Pakistan or Birmingham in the UK. He was one of five children; their father Abdul Rauf ran a bakery in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham. He was considered a devout Muslim by his neighbours, the Independent newspaper reported. He had been a religious judge in Pakistan. Rashid Rauf’s mother gave lessons in the Quran to local children in a garden shed behind the Rauf family home.
The family lived in the east of Birmingham – reports disagree on exactly where, but all place the house around the Ward End area.
Rauf attended Washwood Heath high school and enrolled at the University of Portsmouth in September 1999. Two years later, his childhood friend Mohammed Gulzar joined him in Portsmouth, having dropped out of a computer science course at Kingston.
Both men became involved in Islamic societies. They dropped out of university before graduation, shortly after Rauf’s uncle Mohammed, 54, was fatally stabbed in Birmingham in April 2002. Mohammed was found with multiple stab wounds outside his home in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham.
There was some suggestion Mohammed’s killing was in connection with a disputed arranged marriage. Following the death, Rauf was wanted by the police in connection with the killing. He and Gulzar fled to Pakistan. Rauf’s plan was to go on to Afghanistan to fight the US forces there, he later told Pakistani interrogators.
Rauf said he first associated himself with Amjad Hussein Farooqi, a senior Pakistani member of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist group that aims to reclaim Kashmir from the Indians. He claimed he first went to Afghanistan in mid-2002 with Farooqi and established a close connection with several al Qaeda members.
The chronology of Rauf’s life becomes unclear between 2002 and mid-2004. But ‘soon after’ arriving in Pakistan he married the daughter of Ghulam Mustafa, founder of the Darul Uloom Madina, a local Deobandi madrasa. His new wife was reportedly related by marriage to Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Maulana Masood Azhar. According to the Independent newspaper, his new wife and two ‘very young daughters’ stayed in ‘a smart area of Bahawalpur, in southern Punjab, where lawyers and other professionals live’.
One report claimed Rauf was still a relatively low-level al Qaeda operative in 2004. His associate Farooqi was killed in a police raid in that year and Rauf’s connection to al Qaeda shifted to Abu Faraj al Libi.
In November 2004 Rauf met Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the men who would go on to carry out the London bombings on July 7 2005. He took the two men to meet a commander, Haji (aka Abu Ubaydah al Masri). Haji convinced Khan and Tanweer to become suicide bombers.
In December, Rauf met plotters of the failed follow-up attack that would be attempted in London on July 21 2005. By this time Gulzar had moved to Johannesburg to look for work.
Rauf wrote a detailed analysis of his role in the July 7 attacks for senior al Qaeda leaders. He claimed he spent a lot of time with Khan and Tanweer and helped them record their martyrdom video. He communicated with the two men when they returned to London and helped them choose their targets. According to CNN, in the run-up to the attack he had to hide in a loft to avoid capture when Pakistani soldiers raided a house he was staying in.
Fifty-two people died in the July 7 attack on London’s trains and buses. The operation raised Rauf’s profile in al Qaeda. While Haji remained the overall commander, Rauf took on a more hands-on role in planning the next plot: a plan to blow up multiple airplanes over the Atlantic.
In the summer of 2006, events overtook Rauf and his cell. The terrorists were developing explosives they could smuggle past airport security, but the British and US security services had them under surveillance. According to the BBC, on August 9 British counter-terrorism police had ‘good coverage’ of the suspects but wanted to wait until they had enough evidence before arresting them.
On July 28 the CIA’s Jose Rodriguez flew to Pakistan to ask the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, to arrest Rauf. Pakistani security services caught up with Rauf in Bahawalpur, arresting him as he tried to board a bus. His father was arrested in Islamabad and his brother Tayib was arrested in the UK as a suspect in the airline bomb plot. He was released without charge.
Rauf was held in Rawalpindi’s infamous Adiala jail between August and December 2006, where he was allegedly tortured. He claimed that some of his interrogators were British. A former British spy told Human Rights Watch torturing Rauf was ‘a disaster’ as it meant he could not be tried in a UK court.
On December 13 2006, terrorism charges against Rauf were dropped by the court in Pakistan. He was transferred to another court to face ‘substantially the same charges’, US ambassador Ryan Crocker said in a secret US cable published by WikiLeaks. The ambassador added: ‘Rauf will go nowhere soon, unless it is to the UK.’
But two days later, Rauf escaped in extraordinary circumstances. Washington’s chargé d’affaires Peter Bodde explained how this happened in a US diplomatic cable. Rauf’s uncle had reportedly been allowed to transport Rashid in his personal van from the courtroom to the jail after an extradition hearing. Bodde continued: ‘While en route to the prison, the uncle also convinced the constables to stop and eat at a fast-food restaurant, and later to pray at a mosque. Rauf and his uncle then escaped during the prayer service.’
In July 2010 the US Department of Justice (DoJ) named Rauf, alongside Saleh al Somali and Adnan el Shukrijumah as one of the planners of a plot to detonate bombs on the New York subway. The cell responsible was also ‘directly related’ to a separate terrorist plot against the UK.
The attacks had been planned between September and December 2008, the DoJ said, adding that the three men were ‘then-leaders of al-Qaeda’s “external operations” program dedicated to terrorist attacks in the United States and other Western countries’.
On November 22 2008, a drone strike reportedly killed Rauf and up to five others, possibly including a civilian. Although his family initially contested reports of his death, in 2012 they announced plans to sue the UK government for complicity in his killing, believing British intelligence officers may have shared information with the US that helped them target him.
Also in 2012, a former Austrian soldier, Maqsood L, was arrested in Berlin carrying a debriefing document written by Rauf, ‘Lessons Learned from Previous Operations’, explaining how he carried out his plans.
Photo: AP Photo/Anjum Naveed
Sources and Citations
Pakistani media (BBC); senior Pakistani security official (Nation); senior Pakistani government offficials (Daily Telegraph); an official (Dawn); Pakistani television (Daily Mail); senior Pakistani intelligence officials (Financial Times); senior Pakistani and US Officials (New York Times); reports, contradicted by his lawyer (Guardian); family in the UK (BIrmingham Mail); family in Pakistan (The News)