A senior al Qaeda leader who was reported to have been killed during a US airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal areas is now thought to have survived the attack and has been plotting terror attacks in Europe.
Rashid Rauf, an al Qaeda leader who is in charge of al Qaeda’s external operations branch responsible for attacks in Europe, survived the November 2008 Predator strike in North Waziristan that was also thought to have killed Abu Zubair al Masri and two other al Qaeda operatives.
US intelligence believes that al Qaeda has reconstituted its external operations network in Pakistan’s lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal areas. This network is tasked with hitting targets in the West, India, and elsewhere. Al Qaeda is particularly interested in recruiting westernized Muslims with western passports, which would allow them to more easily enter their target countries. The Predator campaign is largely designed to prevent al Qaeda from conducting another major attack in the West.
The assessment that Rauf had been killed changed, after an al Qaeda operative detained during a raid in Belgium claimed that Rauf had trained him and dispatched him to Brussels to conduct a suicide attack during a meeting of European leaders, The Times Online reported. The operative also said Rauf had plotted attacks in major cities in Belgium, France, Holland, and England. Rauf has also been implicated as being the director of the failed plot to conduct attacks in England on Easter Sunday.
Unnamed intelligence sources from the Central Intelligence Agency, Britain’s MI6, and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency have touted Rauf’s death to the media as evidence of the success of the Predator strike program in Pakistan. The CIA directs the covert Predator program. Rauf is among ten other al Qaeda leaders identified as being killed in strikes in Pakistan since January 2008.
But The Long War Journal has long been skeptical of the claims that Rauf had been killed. US military and intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal several times that Rauf’s death was never confirmed and that reports that he was killed in the November strike in South Waziristan were premature.
Shortly after the November strike, Rauf’s family and his lawyer claimed his was still alive. Taliban fighters close to Rauf also said he was alive.
Background on Rashid Rauf
Rashid Rauf has a long pedigree in Pakistan’s terror circles. Rauf’s family is well immersed in Pakistan’s radical jihadi community. He is a relative of Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, a terror outfit that operates in Indian Kashmir. Rauf’s sister-in-law is married to Azhar’s brother. Rauf himself is a member of Jaish-e-Mohammad, which has merged with al Qaeda and moved a large number of its fighters into Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Rauf’s father-in-law and sister-in-law run the radical Darul Uloom Madina, one of Pakistan’s largest Islamic seminaries in Bahawalpur. More than 2,000 students attend the Darul Uloom Madina.
His father founded Crescent Relief, a Muslim charity that collected funds for earthquake relief and is currently under investigation for funneling money to fund the failed 2006 London airlines plot.
Rauf and senior al Qaeda leader Matiur Rehman were the architects of the London airline plot. Al Qaeda intended to destroy a dozen aircraft while en route to the United States from London. Rehman is a senior al Qaeda leader who is known to manage the “jihadi rolodex,” the list of the tens of thousands of operatives who have passed through terror training camps over the years.
Rauf was captured by Pakistani security forces in August 2006 in the city of Bahawalpur. On Dec. 15, 2007, he escaped from Pakistani custody, under dubious circumstances. Police escorts claim Rauf broke free of his handcuffs as he was visiting a mosque while being transported from a court appearance in Islamabad to a jail in Rawalpindi. Rauf’s uncle had convinced police to transport Rauf in a van and had driven the van himself. Several police were charged with being complicit in Rauf’s escape.
At the time of Rauf’s escape, the British government was attempting to extradite him. A senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that Rauf fled to South Waziristan immediately after his escape.
Tayib Rauf, Rashid Rauf’s brother, was arrested in Britain for his involvement with the London airline plot along with 22 other suspects. The British government froze the bank accounts of Tayib and 18 other suspects. Most of the suspects arrested in Britain were British nationals of Pakistani origin.