Profile: Maulana Masood Azhar
Maulana Masood Azhar was a participant or observer in the following events:
Al-Qaeda operatives train militants in Somalia to attack US soldiers who have recently been posted there. This training will culminate in a battle on October 3-4, 1993, in which 18 US soldiers are killed (see October 3-4, 1993). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 182; Piszkiewicz, 2003, pp. 100] In the months before this battle, various al-Qaeda operatives come and go, occasionally training Somalis. It is unknown if any operatives are directly involved in the battle. Operatives involved in the training include:
Maulana Masood Azhar, who is a Pakistani militant leader connected with Osama bin Laden. He appears to serve as a key link between bin Laden and the Somali killers of US soldiers (see 1993). [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002]
Ali Mohamed, the notorious double agent, apparently helps train the Somalis involved in the attack (see 1993).
Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander, who is one of the leaders of the operation. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 77]
Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s deputy military commander. An informant will later testify in an early 2001 US trial that he flew Atef and four others from bin Laden’s base in Sudan to Nairobi, Kenya, to train Somalis (see Before October 1993). [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, who will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings, will boast that he provided the rocket launchers and rifles that brought down the helicopters. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998; Lance, 2006, pp. 143] Odeh will later say that he is ordered to Somalia by Saif al Adel, acting for bin Laden. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 138-139]
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who will also be convicted for the embassy bombings, trains militants in Somalia with Odeh. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998]
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who will be connected to the embassy bombings and will still be at large in 2007, is linked to the helicopter incident as well. [Lance, 2006, pp. 143]
Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah, who will also be connected to the embassy bombings, will be killed in Pakistan in 2006 (see April 12, 2006). [CNN, 10/24/2006]
Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s ruling council. He will be captured in the country of Georgia in 2002 (see Early October 2002).
Abu Talha al-Sudani, an al-Qaeda leader who settles in Somalia and remains there. He will reportedly be killed in Somalia in 2007 (see December 24, 2006-January 2007). [Washington Post, 1/8/2007]
Bin Laden dispatches a total of five groups, some of them trained by Ali Mohamed. [Lance, 2006, pp. 142] Atef reaches an agreement with one of the warlords, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, that bin Laden’s men will help him against the US and UN forces. These trips to Somalia will later be confirmed by L’Houssaine Kherchtou, testifying at the East African embassy bombings trial in 2001. Kherchtou will say that he met “many people” going to Somalia and facilitated their travel there from Nairobi, Kenya. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 138-139, 141]
Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mohamed Farah Aideed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abu Talha al-Sudani, Saif al-Islam al-Masri, Mohammed Atef, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
According to a confession made later to Indian police, Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar travels to Somalia to help al-Qaeda operatives train local forces the US is attacking. Azhar is assisted by other radicals linked to Osama bin Laden (see Late 1992-October 1993). The training will culminate in the Black Hawk Down incident in October 1993 (see October 3-4, 1993).
Trip - Azhar initially travels to Nairobi, Kenya, on the orders of Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant organization Harkat ul-Ansar (later known as Harkat ul-Mujahedeen). In Nairobi, he meets with leaders of the Somali group Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, and gives them money and equipment, as well as making three journeys to Somalia itself. Azhar will also say that some of the militants helping the anti-American Somalis are the same people who fought as the mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan War, but were expelled from Pakistan after the war.
Alleged Yemen Connection - Indian authorities will also say that Azhar helped with the movement of mercenaries from Yemen to Somalia, and that he was assisted in this by a Yemeni militant leader named Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli. Tariq is said to have fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets and to have been involved in an anti-US bombing in Yemen in late 1992 (see December 29, 1992). [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002] Azhar is also associated with Pakistan’s ISI. He will be imprisoned briefly in Pakistan after 9/11 and then released (see December 14, 2002).
Saeed in an Indian hospital shortly after being arrested [Source: Indian Express]Saeed Sheikh is imprisoned in India for kidnapping Westerners. While there, he meets Aftab Ansari, another prisoner, an Indian gangster who will be released from prison near the end of 1999. [India Today, 2/25/2002] Saeed also meets another prisoner named Asif Raza Khan, who also is released in 1999. [Rediff, 11/17/2001] After Saeed is rescued from prison at the end of 1999, he works with Ansari and Khan to kidnap Indians and then uses some of the profits to fund the 9/11 attacks. [Frontline (Chennai), 2/2/2002; India Today, 2/14/2002] Saeed also becomes good friends with prisoner Maulana Masood Azhar, a militant with al-Qaeda connections. [Sunday Times (London), 4/21/2002] Saeed will later conduct operations together with Azhar’s group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. [Independent, 2/26/2002]
On July 4, 1995, six Western tourists are kidnapped in Kashmir, India. A Norwegian is soon found beheaded while an American manages to escape. The remaining hostages, two British, one German, and one American, are never found and are apparently killed in December 1995. The kidnapping is executed by an alias of the Pakistani militant group later known as Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. The kidnappers demand the release of a number of jailed Islamists, including Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar, both imprisoned in India (see November 1994-December 1999). Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna claims the leaders of the operation were trained by al-Qaeda. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 284-285] In January 1996, a secret CIA report will say that, according to a foreign intelligence agency, Enaam Arnaout, the US director of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), was in Pakistan and matches the description of a man involved in the kidnapping who then left Pakistan in early October for Bosnia via the US. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996] Yet despite this information, the US will take no action against Arnaout or BIF. The US will not even designate Harkat ul-Mujahedeen until over two years after the kidnapping. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 284-285] An airplane hijacking in 1999 will free Azhar and Sheikh (see December 24-31, 1999).
Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Indian Airlines Flight 814 is hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers are held hostage for eight days. They are freed in return for the release of three militants held in Indian prisons. One of the hostages is killed. One of the men freed in the exchange is Saeed Sheikh, who will later allegedly wire money to the 9/11 hijackers (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 12/31/1999] Another freed militant is Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar emerges in Pakistan a few days later, and tells a crowd of 10,000, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2000] He then tours Pakistan for weeks under the protection of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI and Saeed help Azhar form a new Islamic militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Azhar is soon plotting attacks again. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The hijacking plot is blamed on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (also known as Harkat ul-Ansar), a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s, and led by Azhar and Sheikh before their arrests in India (see Early 1993). Musharraf has just taken power in Pakistan in a coup two months earlier (see October 12, 1999). The Indian government publicly blames the ISI for backing the hijacking. Such claims are not surprising given the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India; however, US officials also privately say the ISI backed the hijacking and may even have helped carry it out. The US and Britain demand that Pakistan ban Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and other similar groups, but Pakistan takes no action. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] The five hijackers, all Pakistanis and members of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, are released and return to Pakistan. They are never arrested. One of them will later be revealed to be Amjad Farooqi, a leader of both al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups who will be killed in mysterious circumstances in 2004 (see September 27, 2004). India is furious with the US for refusing to condemn Pakistan or pressure it to take action against the hijackers. According to some sources, al-Qaeda planned the hijacking in conjunction with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Washington Post, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 112-113] In 2001, the flight’s captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. [CNN, 9/26/2001]
Entity Tags: Indian Airlines Flight 814, Devi Sharan, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Amjad Farooqi, Saeed Sheikh, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
After his released from an Indian prison at the end of 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999), Saeed Sheikh stays in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for several days and meets with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He also meets with bin Laden, who is said to call Saeed “my special son.” [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed soon has a falling out with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar and draws closer to al-Qaeda. Based mostly in Karachi, Pakistan, he reports to al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Saeed is said to “soon [become] a key figure, especially in terms of fund-raising.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] He regularly travels to Afghanistan and helps train new al-Qaeda recruits in training camps there. [New York Times, 2/25/2002; India Today, 2/25/2002; National Post, 2/26/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002] Saeed helps train some of the 9/11 hijackers, presumably in Afghanistan as well. [Daily Telegraph, 9/30/2001] He also helps al-Qaeda develop a secure web-based communications system. His work is generally so impressive that there is talk he could one day succeed bin Laden. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed forged a relationship while in Indian prison with Aftab Ansari, a Pakistani gangster who has fled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (see November 1994-December 1999). Thanks to this connection, Sheikh is able to establish an al-Qaeda base for himself in Dubai, UAE. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] Numerous 9/11 hijackers will later move through Dubai and some of the money sent to Mohamed Atta in 2001 will come from Sheikh and Ansari through Dubai (see Early August 2001). [Guardian, 2/9/2002] At the same time Saeed is strengthening his al-Qaeda ties, he is also openly working with the Pakistani ISI (see January 1, 2000-September 11, 2001).
A British suicide bomber drives a stolen car packed with explosives into an Indian army base in the town of Srinagar, located in the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed region of Kashmir. Ten people are killed, including three Indian soldiers. The bomber, Asif Sadiq (a.k.a. Mohammed Bilal), is a 24-year-old student from Birmingham. He is the first known Islamist suicide bomber from Britain. Radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of the extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, says, “I am not surprised by his actions. He becomes a martyr and that is the wish of every Muslim in order to go to paradise.” It will later be revealed that Sadiq was a member of Al-Muhajiroun. Sadiq is also said to have been a member of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM). Days after the bombing, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, praises Sadiq and calls him a martyr. JEM’s newspaper says that in 1994 Sadiq joined Harkat-ul Ansar, a Pakistani militant group led by Azhar at the time which later changed its name to Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Independent, 12/29/2000; Sunday Times (London), 7/24/2005; Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 8/20/2006]
A suicide truck-bomb attack on the provincial parliamentary assembly in Indian-controlled Kashmir leaves 36 dead. It appears that Saeed Sheikh and Aftab Ansari, working with the ISI, are behind the attacks. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Indian intelligence claims that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is later given a recording of a phone call between Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Maulana Masood Azhar and ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed in which Azhar allegedly reports the bombing is a “success.”
[United Press International, 10/10/2001]
A terrorist lies dead near the entrance to the Indian Parliament building. [Source: R. V. Moorthy]The Indian Parliament building in New Delhi is attacked by Islamic militants. Fourteen people, including the five attackers, are killed. India blames the Pakistani militant groups Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba for the attacks. Twelve days later, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, is arrested by Pakistan and his group is banned. He is freed one year later. [Agence France-Presse, 12/25/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] The Parliament attack leads to talk of war, even nuclear war, between Pakistan and India, until Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cracks down on militant groups in early January. [Daily Telegraph, 12/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 1/3/2002; Guardian, 5/25/2002] As a result of the rising tensions, Pakistani troop deployments near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan are halted, allowing many al-Qaeda and Taliban to escape into Pakistan (see December 10, 2001). It appears that Saeed Sheikh and Aftab Ansari, working with the ISI, were also involved in the attacks. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
The FBI has asked Pakistan for permission to question Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, according to reports. Pakistan arrested him on December 25, 2001, after US pressure to do so. One Pakistani official says, “The Americans are aware Azhar met bin Laden often, and are convinced he can give important information about bin Laden’s present whereabouts and even the September 11 attacks.” But the “primary reason” for US interest is the link between Azhar and Saeed Sheikh. They hope to learn about Saeed’s involvement in financing the 9/11 attacks. Whether Pakistan gives permission to question Azhar is unclear. Four days later, the US officially asks Pakistan for help in finding and extraditing Saeed. [Gulf News, 1/5/2002]
On January 12, 2002, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech denouncing violent Islamist militancy for the first time. He is essentially forced to give the speech after militants supported by Pakistan launched attacks in the disputed region of Kashmir, bringing India and Pakistan close to the brink of nuclear war. He also bans five militant groups (see January 12, 2002). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 116-118] Shortly after the speech, Pakistan arrests about 3,000 suspected militants. Musharraf is hailed in the Western media as redirecting the ISI to support the US agenda. But by the end of the month, at least 800 of the arrested are set free, including most of their leaders. Not a single one of the arrested militants is charged with any terrorist offense. [Washington Post, 3/28/2002; Time, 5/6/2002; Rashid, 2008, pp. 155] A US diplomat based in Pakistan will later say: “By March it was clear to us that Musharraf was not going to implement his promises [given in the speech]. All the arrested militants were freed, and the military had no intention of imposing any curbs on their activities.” The US State Department attempts to pressure Musharraf to keep the promises he made in the speech. However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the US Defense Department is reluctant to pressure him, fearing that Pakistan will stop cooperating in capturing al-Qaeda leaders. Rumsfeld is apparently not concerned by the strong links between Pakistani militant groups and al-Qaeda. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 118] Within one year, “almost all” of those arrested have been quietly released. Even the most prominent leaders, such as Maulana Masood Azhar, have been released. Their banned militant organizations are running again, most under new names. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
A man named Mohammed Saeed is stabbed to death in Birmingham, England. The police seek two subjects for questioning about the murder. One of them is Rashid Rauf, who will later be involved in a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006). Rauf is currently studying at Portsmouth University, but leaves there without graduating and travels to Pakistan, in an apparent attempt to avoid the police. In Pakistan, Rauf marries into the family of Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of the militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammed. Azhar is well known in Britain, and Rauf’s association with him raises his standing with potential British radicals. [BBC, 11/22/2008]
Maulana Masood Azhar. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]A Pakistani court frees Maulana Masood Azhar, a member of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, from prison. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] Two weeks later, he is freed from house arrest. He was held for exactly one year without charge, the maximum allowed in Pakistan. [Associated Press, 12/29/2002] He was arrested shortly after an attack on the Indian Parliament that was blamed on his organization. In December 1999, he and Saeed Sheikh were rescued by al-Qaeda from an Indian prison, and he has ties to al-Qaeda and possibly the 9/11 attacks. Pakistan frees several other high-level militant leaders in the same month. It is believed they are doing this so they can fight in a secret proxy war with India over Kashmir. US officials have remained silent about the release of Azhar and others Pakistani militant leaders. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] The US froze the funds of Jaish-e-Mohammed in October 2001, but the group simply changed its name to al-Furqan, and the US has not frozen the funds of the “new” group. [Financial Times, 2/8/2003; Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
President Musharraf’s car damaged in one of the assassination attempts. [Source: Mian Khursheed / Reuters]On December 14, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survives an assassination attempt when a powerful bomb goes off 30 seconds after his highly-guarded convoy crosses a bridge in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The heavily guarded bridge is just a mile from Musharraf’s house, yet militants were able to spend severals days tying explosives to the pylons below it. His life is saved by a jamming device in his car given to him by the FBI, which temporarily jams all telephone signals and thus delays the explosion. On December 25, 2003, two suicide bombers launch another attempt to assassinate Musharraf, driving car bombs into his convoy a short distance from the location of the previous attack. Their car bombs fail to kill him and he escapes with only a cracked windscreen on his car, but 16 others nearby are killed.
Investigation - The identities of the two suicide bombers are soon discovered. One is Mohammed Jamil, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) militant group who fought with the Taliban. The other is Hazir Sultan, who also fought with the Taliban. The memory chip from Jamil’s phone is found in the debris, and it is discovered he talked to a policeman who told him the timing of Musharraf’s convoy. Only a handful of military officers knew the route and timing of Musharraf’s travels and which of several identical cars he would be using at any given time, suggesting that elements within the military were involved in the attacks. Investigators also discover that the explosives used in the attacks came from an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
Militant Leaders against Musharraf - Osama bin Laden apparently called for Musharraf’s overthrow in October 2002 (see October 9, 2002), and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently did the same in September 2003 (see September 28, 2003). In the months prior to the assassination attempts, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, gave a speech at a prominent mosque calling for Musharraf’s assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007]
Limited Crackdown - Musharraf responds by reshuffling positions in the military high command. More than 150 military and security personnel will eventually be arrested and interrogated. Twelve suspects are eventually found guilty and sentenced to death for roles in the attacks; at least six are military officers. It is believed the suicide bombers and these officers were recruited and trained by Amjad Farooqi, a JEM leader also closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be Farooqi’s superior, is also allegedly involved. A massive manhunt for Farooqi and al-Libbi will ensue. Farooqi will eventually be killed in September 2004 (see September 27, 2004) and al-Libbi captured in May 2005 and taken into US custody (see May 2, 2005). However, Musharraf’s response is relatively restrained. He avoids calls to launch a crackdown on the entire Islamist militant movement in Pakistan. He does not ban any militant groups, nor does he arrest militant leaders, not even Azhar, the head of JEM who had publicly called for his assassination. (JEM had been banned in Pakistan for a second time the month before (see November 2003).) He does allow the Pakistani Army to attack the safe haven of South Waziristan several months later, but only after the US gives him an ultimatum, essentially forcing him to do so (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. [Source: Public domain]The Los Angeles Times reports that Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is living and operating openly in Pakistan. He lives with his family in the city of Rawalpindi and urges his followers to fight the US. Khalil was a signatory to Osama bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa [religious edict] that encouraged attacks on Americans and Jews anywhere in the world (see February 22, 1998). In late 1998, Khalil said, “We will hit back at [the Americans] everywhere in the world, wherever we find them. We have started a holy war against the US and they will hardly find a tree to take shelter beneath it.” The Pakistani government banned HUM in January 2002 (see Shortly After January 12-March 2002), but the group simply changed its name to Jamiat ul-Ansar and continued to operate. Then it was banned again in November 2003 (see November 2003). The Times reports that HUM is openly defying the most recent ban. HUM publishes a monthly magazine that urges volunteers to fight the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a recent issue published since the most recent ban, Khalil calls on followers to “sacrifice our life, property and heart” in order to help create one Muslim nation that will control the whole world. The magazine continues to appear on newsstands in Pakistan and gives announcements for upcoming HUM meetings and events, despite the group supposedly being banned.
Government Takes No Action - The Pakistani government claims not to know where Khalil is, even though his magazine publishes his contact information (Times reporters attempting to find him for an interview were detained and roughed up by his supporters.) Government officials also claim that Khalil and HUM are doing nothing illegal, even though HUM’s magazine makes clear fund-raising appeals in each issue, and Pakistani law clearly specifies that banned groups are not allowed to fund-raise. Officials also say that they don’t know where the leaders of other banned militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba are, but these leaders make frequent public appearances and documents obtain by the Times show the ISI intelligence agency is closely monitoring them. Militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar has not been arrested even though his group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, was recently implicated in the attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 1/25/2004]
Link to California Suspect - In 2005, a Pakistani immigrant to the US named Umer Hayat will be arrested in California on terrorism charges. He will allegedly confess to having toured training camps in Pakistan run by Khalil, who is a family friend. He will only serve a short time for making false statements to the FBI, but his son Hamid Hayat will be sentenced to 24 years in prison on similar charges (see June 3, 2005). [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2005]
Shehzad Tanweer. [Source: Public domain]The Christian Science Monitor reports that police in Pakistan are carefully analyzing the cell phone records of the two 7/7 London bombers who trained there, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer. “While officials stress that it is a tedious process, it has already yielded the name of at least one significant suspect: Maulana Masood Azhar.” Azhar is leader of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), which has technically been banned twice by the Pakistani government but continues to operate (see November 2003). [Christian Science Monitor, 8/1/2005] Tanweer met a JEM leader during visits to Pakistan in 2003 and 2004, and also associated with a JEM recruiting agent (see Late 2003). Sources also say that Haroon Rashid Aswat, the alleged mastermind of the 7/7 bombings, has links to JEM as well as al-Qaeda. [Guardian, 7/21/2005] Azhar is questioned shortly after the 7/7 bombings, but then let go. [Dawn (Karachi), 7/16/2005] However, there are no apparent repercussions for Azhar or his group, despite well-documented links to al-Qaeda and other attacks. In 2006, it will be reported that Azhar is keeping a low profile, but living openly in the city of Karachi and editing a militant newspaper there. Also in 2006, it will be reported that Rashid Rauf, the leader of a failed transatlantic airplane bomb plot (see August 10, 2006), is related to Azhar through the marriage of their siblings. [New York Times, 12/17/2007]
In a Guardian op-ed, British MP and former cabinet minister Michael Meacher suggests that Saeed Sheikh, known for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, may have played a role in the 7/7 London bombings despite being held in a high-security Pakistani prison since 2002. Meacher states that “reports from Pakistan suggest that Sheikh continues to be active from jail, keeping in touch with friends and followers in Britain.” He cites the India-based Observer Research Foundation, which argues that there are even “grounds to suspect that the [7/7 London bombings] were orchestrated by [Saeed] Sheikh from his jail in Pakistan.” [Guardian, 9/10/2005] While there have been no firm reports linking Sheikh to the 7/7 bombings, he did work with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar (in fact both were released in 1999 as part of a deal to end an airplane hijacking (see December 24-31, 1999)), and there are reports that two of the 7/7 bombers called Azhar and had dealings with others linked to Azhar’s militant group (see August 1, 2005).
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf mysteriously escapes from a prison in Pakistan. Authorities will say he escapes after freeing himself from handcuffs while being transported from one prison to another. The two policemen escorting him allowed him to stop and pray at a mosque. According to The Guardian, “The officers claimed that when Rauf walked into the mosque they waited outside in their car, never considering for a moment that he could simply walk out of the back door.” Furthermore, they do not report the escape for several hours. The two policemen on the duty are arrested, but it is unclear what happens to them. The Pakistani government will say they must have been bribed to allow Rauf to escape.
Linked to Pakistani Militant Group - Rauf, a dual Pakistani and British citizen, was implicated as a leader of a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain using liquid explosives (see August 10, 2006). He was arrested in Pakistan. His wife is closely related to Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani militant group that has a history of links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Was He Allowed to Escape to Avoid Extradition? - Rauf’s lawyer will claim that it is not a case of simple bribery. “You could call it a ‘mysterious disappearance’ if you like, but not an escape,” he will say. “The Pakistanis are simply not interested in handing him over to the British. They never have been, although it is not clear why not.” In December 2006, terrorism charges against Rauf were dropped, but he remained in Pakistani custody on charges of carrying explosives and forged identity papers (see December 13, 2006). In November 2007, those charges were dropped and a judge ordered his immediate release. But less than an hour later, the Pakistani government announced that he would be extradited to Britain to be charged in the airplane plot, and he would remain in custody until that happened. His escape took place as he was getting close to being extradited. People at the mosque where he is supposed to have escaped will say that they never saw him or any policemen on this day, and the police never came looking for him later. [Guardian, 1/28/2008] In November 2008, it will be reported that Rauf was killed in a US drone strike, but his family will insist he remains alive (see November 22, 2008).
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