- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | A British citizen linked to a plot to blow up jetliners flying across the Atlantic was thought to have been killed Saturday by an apparent U.S. missile attack on an al Qaeda redoubt near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said.

If confirmed, the death of Rashid Rauf would bolster U.S. claims that missile strikes on extremist strongholds in northwestern Pakistan are protecting the West against another Sept. 11-style terrorist attack.

Pakistan’s government confirmed that Mr. Rauf and a Saudi militant called Abu Zubair al-Masri were the apparent targets of the missile in North Waziristan in the restive tribal region that lies next to Afghanistan.

But Information Minister Sherry Rehman also reiterated the government’s complaint that missile attacks, apparently launched from unmanned aircraft, are fanning anti-Americanism and Islamic extremism tearing at both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“It would have been better if our authorities had been alerted for local action,” Mrs. Rehman told the Associated Press. “Drone incursions create a strong backlash.”

North Waziristan is one of the tribal areas where Taliban fighters operate out of bases to stage attacks across the border into Afghanistan and lies in the rugged frontier region where al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden may be hiding.

A Taliban spokesman insisted that only civilians were killed in the pre-dawn missile attack in the village of Ali Khel, which lies in an area long reputed as a militant stronghold.

“None was a foreigner,” Ahmedullah Ahmedi said in a statement delivered to reporters in Miran Shah, the region’s main town.

However, three Pakistani intelligence officials, citing reports from field agents as well as intercepted militant communications, said they thought Mr. Rauf and Mr. al-Masri were among five killed.

Militants quickly cordoned off the area, and one of the intelligence officials cautioned that government spies in the area had not seen any of the bodies. The intelligence officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter to news media.

Mr. Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, has been on the run since last December, when he escaped from police escorting him back to jail after an extradition hearing in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

Britain was seeking his extradition ostensibly as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, but Mr. Rauf was thought to have been in contact with a group in Britain planning to smuggle liquid explosives onto trans-Atlantic flights and also with a suspected al Qaeda mastermind of the plot in Afghanistan.

The plot’s revelation in August 2006 prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carry-on items.

A London jury convicted three men in the case in September, though several others were acquitted. British investigators lamented that Mr. Rauf’s arrest by Pakistani authorities in August 2006 had forced them to sweep up the plot suspects before they had finished gathering strong evidence.

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