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US strike kills top al Qaeda commanders in Pakistan
Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad | November 22, 2008 15:11 IST
Rashid Rauf, the terror mastermind believed to be behind the 2006 trans-Atlantic plane bombing plot, and another top al Qaeda operative were among five militants killed in a United States missile attack on Saturday which hit the house of a prominent Taliban [Images] commander in Pakistan's troubled north-west.
Rashid Rauf, a British-Pakistani citizen, was one of two of the suspected ringleaders of the al Qaeda London [Images] Airline plot to destroy the aircraft en route to the United States.
Rauf was killed along with another top Arab al Qaeda commander Abu Al-Asr Al Misri and three militants when two missiles fired by a US drone scored a direct hit at the house of the local Taliban commander in Alikhel village in Mirali sub-district of North Waziristan Agency, officials told TV channels.
Rauf is a relative of Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, who was released in exchange for the hijacked Indian Airlines plane in Kandhar in Afghanistan in December 1999.
"The trans-Atlantic bombing plot alleged mastermind was killed along with an Egyptian al Qaeda leader in the missile strike today," a top security official was quoted as saying.
Rauf escaped from Pakistani police custody in December 2007, while being in the process of being extradited to the United Kingdom to face trial.
A day after Rauf's arrest in 2006, a worldwide security alert was sounded and 24-30 suspects were detained in a major swoop. His arrest also prompted a massive security alert on London's Heathrow airport, leading to mass cancellation of flights for several days for fear of terror attack.
Local Taliban cordoned off the area around the targeted house and did not allow people to approach it, leading to corroboration of reports that the missiles had killed top al Qaeda commanders.
The missile strike left six other people wounded, officials said.
Rauf was arrested by Pakistani intelligence in the city of Bahawalpur in August 2006. US intelligence described him as 'the planner of the (foiled airline) attacks who recruited people to take part in the plot. He was awaiting a decision on whether he would be extradited to Britain before his escape'.
Rauf's father-in-law runs the radical Darul Uloom Madina, one of Pakistan's largest radical religious seminaries.
Tayib Rauf, Rashid's brother, was arrested in Britain for his involvement with the London airline plot along with 22 other suspects. The British government froze Tayib and 18 other suspect's bank accounts.
Today's attack was carried out in spite of heavy protest by Pakistan government and threats to shoot down the airspace violating drones.
The attack was the latest in a series of over 20 missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt by US drones, operating from Afghanistan, in the last few weeks.
Pakistan has angrily opposed the strikes, describing them as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The US ambassador has been summoned thrice to the Foreign Office for protests to be lodged against the strikes.
The missile strikes continue despite reports that Pakistan was moving anti-aircraft batteries and missiles close to its border with Afghanistan.
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