Bhawalpur (Pakistan), Aug. 16 (Reuters): Rashid Rauf, identified by Pakistan as a key player in the failed plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners, was a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant before he joined the al Qaida, a senior group member said today.
The father of Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammad, said that Rauf left the movement to join rivals more interested in al Qaida’s anti-western message. “He was a member of our group but later he deserted and joined our rivals,” Hafiz Allah Bukhsh said at Jaish’s headquarters in Bahawalpur.
“Our cause is Kashmir, while their main cause is Afghanistan. They are anti-American but we are not,” Bukhsh said in the eastern city near the border with India.
Pakistani intelligence officials say Rauf was arrested in Bahawalpur on August 9, just hours before British police detained 24 people suspected of being part of a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for the US.
A phone call made by Rauf from Bahawalpur triggered the decision taken by the Pakistani, British and US intelligence agencies to launch raids to foil a conspiracy they had been monitoring since late last year, according to the officials.
Under pressure from Washington, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf banned several militant groups, including Jaish, in 2002. Some groups splintered and morphed after the ban and some members left to join al Qaida, experts say.
Rauf, whose family moved to Britain when he was a young child, returned to Pakistan in 2002 after his uncle was stabbed to death in Birmingham.
Bukhsh said he spoke with Rauf several times after he left Jaish, and that the Briton was related by marriage to one of his own sons. In Bahawalpur, Rauf was known as Mohammad Khalid, according to residents. He has two young daughters — one less than a year old and the other around two years old — according to another relative.