November 22, 2008


The life and death of an 'al-Qaeda terrorist': Like many of his generation who flirted with militant Islam, Rashid Rauf's path to terrorism began shortly after the 9/11 suicide attacks. (Sean Rayment and Andrew Alderson, 22 Nov 2008, Daily Telegraph)

While much of the world recoiled in horror as the World Trade Centre towers imploded, Rauf was is believed to be one of those who regarded the atrocity as a victory for Islam and from that moment dedicated himself to al-Qaeda's cause.

The terror group's simple philosophy is to cause death and mayhem on an unprecedented scale – airlines have always been al-Qaeda target of choice – and Rauf, the quiet, self-effacing Muslim began plotting.

Rauf was the classic self-radicalised terrorist. He led a mundane existence in Birmingham, where he worked as a driver for his father, Abdul Rauf, a law-abiding member of the local community, who ran a bakery business.

Before dawn most mornings, he could usually be found at the wheel of a van loaded with pallets of food – from nan bread to muffins – which used to leave the bakery with deliveries to supermarkets and grocers in Birmingham. Rauf's work was interspersed with early-morning visits to a nearby mosque and sessions at a gym.

At night he would read extremist literature and listen to tapes of mullahs, who regarded America as the Great Satan and all non-Muslims as "infidels". But this was a private life of which his family new nothing. Like many young radicals he was now part of a covert conspiracy.

Hunt for Rashid Rauf that ended with hellfire: A British terror suspect was killed by US forces in Pakistan yesterday. MPs want to know: did they tell Britain first? (The Sunday Times of London, 11/23/08)
The bungalow belonged to Khaliq Noor, who locals say is not a Taliban figure but who rented it out to the militants. They would have regarded the house as the safest of havens. The village is a Taliban stronghold; it was here that the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and Pakistan government officials signed a 2005 “peace deal” that the Americans regarded as a surrender to terrorism.

But their location had been betrayed, either by their own use of a mobile telephone, or by the spies and special forces tracking them. Senior Pakistani government sources say the attack was lined up by the country’s intelligence services who tipped off their American counterparts about Rauf’s whereabouts. They added that he, rather than the two Arabs, was the main target of the attack. [...]

RAUF’S apparent killing is just one part of a wider assault by America on the tribal areas, with at least 20 such attacks having taken place since the summer. Like the previous strikes, this one was planned by a special unit from the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre, with the logistics carried out by military commanders based in Bahrain and Kuwait.

The attacks were stepped up earlier this year following the visit of CIA director Michael Hayden and other high-ranking US security officials to Pakistan. Under a deal agreed with the country’s then president, Pervez Musharraf, the US would have virtually unrestricted authority to attack border areas in the country. Pakistan would then officially deny any knowledge of the attacks and publicly condemn them for domestic political purposes.

The new strategy is based on an assessment that the next major Al-Qaeda attack on the West will originate from the country’s tribal areas. It was this assessment that is thought to be behind a warning issued three months ago by Lord West, the security minister, that: “There is another great plot building up again and we are monitoring this.”

The new intensity of American attacks followed the approval this summer by President George W Bush of more relaxed rules of engagement for American forces in the area. Previously the Pentagon required “90%” confidence that a “high-value target” was at a location before approving a Predator strike. Now that threshold was dropped to 50%-60%.

However, even British commanders are wary of their effectiveness, given the resentment they produce among locals. One has described them as “utter madness”.

They seem likely to continue. Barack Obama, the US president-elect, has vowed to step up the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader, regardless of borders.

Bruce Riedel, a counter- terrorism expert and adviser to Obama, spoke approvingly of this weekend’s mission. “Rauf epitomises the Pakistan-UK connection that Al-Qaeda is trying to exploit to attack Britain and the United States,” he said. “He also has ties to Kashmiri terror groups closely aligned with Al-Qaeda.”

Last night British officials were saying they were still seeking formal confirmation of the identities of those killed in the missile strike, but questions will be raised about what, if anything, London knew about an attack by coalition forces that resulted in the death of a British citizen.

Officially, Britain is not told of impending American missile attacks on terrorist figures and both MI5 and MI6 state that they do not get involved in assassinations.

The arrangements under which the CIA consults with Britain about such strikes remain a closely guarded secret, but it seems hard to believe that, given the intensity of interest in Rauf, the agencies here would not have known that the Americans had tracked him down.

...when they assume, quite rightly, that their own intelligence services are in the thick of things.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2008 7:50 PM
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