Thursday, December 20, 2007

Inquiry Says "Criminal Collusion" In The "Escape" Of Rashid Rauf

The report from an official Pakistani inquiry into the "escape" of Rashid Rauf disputes the claims of the two policemen who were escorting the alleged Liquid Bomber and calls his disappearance "a case of criminal collusion", according to an article published a few hours ago by Pakistan's Dawn.

The piece, by Mohammad Asghar, is the only account of the inquiry report currently available in English on the internet. It is confusing in spots and perhaps we will have to await clarification; but on the other hand Mohammad Asghar writes English better than I read Urdu, so I'm not complaining too much.

The main problem -- with either Mohammad Asghar's account or the inquiry report itself -- is that it describes two mutually exclusive timelines as if they both happened!

Regular readers know the background: Rashid Rauf was called "a key person" in the alleged "Liquid Bomber" plot, which was called "an imminent threat" despite the fact that none of the so-called "trans-Atlantic airline bombers" had bought airline tickets, and was to have killed "hundreds of thousands of people" despite the fact that the method of attack described in this case was utterly impossible.

And Rashid Rauf, who was arrested in Pakistan in August of 2006, has been in custody ever since, despite the fact that all the charges against him have been dropped -- twice.

But the British still want him (officially in connection with a five-year-old murder, and unofficially in connection with the so-called "terror plot"). And Britain and Pakistan don't have an extradition treaty, but the Pakistanis want something in return, so an exchange of prisoners was being arranged -- and just last week the British collected a few new prisoners to swap.

The British have denied this, but the Pakistanis have confirmed it.

In any case, on Saturday, December 15, after being taken from jail in Rawalpindi to an extradition hearing in Islamabad, Rashid Rauf "escaped" from police custody.

At first we were told that he somehow slipped out of his handcuffs and overpowered two policemen, but that didn't fly.

Then we got a second story about how his uncle took Rashid and the constables out for lunch and then they stopped at a mosque where Rashid got permission to go in and pray -- alone! But that didn't fly either.

So now we have this inquiry, which itself seems flightless.

One one hand, Mohammad Asghar quotes the inquiry's report as saying
“The escape was made good in the vicinity of F-8 Markaz, the district courts, Islamabad, and right after the hearing."
But on the other hand he says:
After the hearing, both the constables escorted Rauf out of the court and instead of a police van they put him in a private car, brought by Rashid Rauf’s uncle and drove back to Adiala. They removed the handcuff of Rauf at his request and stopped at a restaurant.

Later Rauf requested the constable to allow him to offer Zuhr prayers in a mosque from where he escaped.
You see the problem? If Rashid Rauf escaped in Islamabad, right after the hearing, then he didn't go to a restaurant and a mosque in Rawalpindi, did he?

Mohammad Asghar gives some support to the notion that the "escape" happened in Islamabad:
A source close to the investigation revealed that coming to know about the escape, the SSP [Senior Superintendent of Police] contacted the uncle of Rauf on his cellphone and was told that Rauf had escaped from F-8 Markaz.
So it looks as though "burgers and prayers" was simply a cover story -- a ploy to give Rashid Rauf time to get away.

If this was, as it looks, a deliberate release, then why wouldn't they let him go as soon as possible after the hearing, then take as long as possible to report it?

When asked why it took so long to report their prisoner missing, they could describe the ride to McDonald's, they could describe waiting for him outside the mosque, they could talk about the time they spent looking for him, and perhaps in the end they could get away with calling it a "mistake".

Be that as it may; by the time all the reporting got started, Rashid Rauf would be long gone.

That's how I would do it. All this rigmarole would be part of the plan, anyway. But I would expect the inquiry to sort it all out. And they don't seem to have done that.

They do appear to have got partway there.
According to sources, the telephone call record of the two constables suggested that Nawabzada and Tufail talked to each other at least three times after Rauf went missing. The location of Nawabzada was a private bus stand near Choor while Tufail was somewhere else, whereas both claimed that they had been guarding Rauf.
So it's pretty clear that the constables are lying.

It's also apparent that they have taken some liberties with the same prisoner in the recent past.
The report contains statements of two constables, Mohammad Tufail and Nawabzada, saying they had transported Rashid Rauf from Adiala jail to Islamabad on three previous hearings.

It is learnt that during previous hearings, the two constables, while on way to Adiala, had illegally taken Rauf to his uncle’s home.
So ... what about this time?

Mohammad Asghar makes it seem as if the second timeline, which I have called a "cover story", appears in the report as part of its account of what really happened, rather than merely what the perpetrators said to cover their tracks.

High-level chicanery, as we well know, is often a sign of high-level coverup. So if this is a fair characterization of the inquiry report, some very high-level people are going to be very upset.

Mohammad Asghar quotes the report as saying:
"It is not a case of negligence but a case of criminal collusion with the accused and facilitating him to escape.”
"The accused" in this instance include the two constables, Mohammad Tufail and Nawabzada, as well as Rashid Rauf's uncle Muhammad Rafiq and two others whose names have not yet been released.

A previous report says phone records indicate conversations between Constable Tufail and Uncle Rafiq before the day of Rashid Rauf's "escape". Were they setting up the arrangements? Were they concocting the cover story? We might never know.

But given what we know already, it seems fairly clear that the "criminal collusion" runs much higher than these two constables.

Here's Mohammad Asghar, one more time:
The inquiry report also concluded that it was not the fault only of the two constables who had brought the accused from Adiala, but the entire Headquarters Establishment of the ICT [Islamabad Capital Territory] police was responsible for not taking appropriate security measures.
If the official account -- the one being dissed by Western diplomats -- is as ragged as this article makes the inquiry report seem, it's no wonder they're saying it contradicts itself on key points!!

We probably haven't seen the last of this inquiry, although we may very well have seen the last of Rashid Rauf.


thirtieth in a series