Saturday, October 14, 2006

A close look at the worldwide Islamo-Fascist terror network II

In an earlier post I commented on an article from Time Magazine on the Pakistani link to the world-wide Islamo-Fascist terror network.

You can find the earlier article here. Here is another in-depth report from New York Times on British Muslim terrorist of Pakistani descent Rashid Rauf, who was the kingpin of a plot to blow up 10 airplanes from UK en route to USA in August 2006.

The West now sees what India has faced for over 17 years now: Radical Islamic terrorism directed at Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sufis, Parsis, and moderate Muslims (those who do not believe in the extreme violence preached in the Koran).

New York Times reports:
In British Inquiry, a Family Caught in Two Worlds

In 2002, Rashid Rauf, a suspect in the alleged plot to blow up airplanes, moved from Britain to Bahawalpur, Pakistan, where he has a home, left. His family, which immigrated from Pakistan, owns a bakery, right, in Birmingham, England. His brother and father are also under scrutiny.

Published: August 20, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 19 — The father, Abdul, seems a classic immigrant to Britain: a Pakistani who settled in Birmingham, he opened a bakery and worked long hours. But he also kept exceptionally strong ties to the old country, starting a charity that raised money meant to help Pakistanis in need.

An older son, Rashid, like many second-generation Muslim immigrants here, had a more complicated life, caught between cultures, with Islam the one consistent thread. He, too, felt the strong lure of Pakistan, where he fled in 2002 after an uncle was mysteriously stabbed in Birmingham, and where he apparently joined an extreme Islamic group.

A younger son, Tayib, visited Pakistan and seemed to be following in his father’s footsteps as a hard-working baker in Britain. In the early hours of Aug. 10, he collected a check of roughly $3,000 from a customer, then sat with him until 2 a.m., talking and eating potato chips.

“A person who is on the verge of blowing himself up isn’t going to sit down and be calm or go around and collect money,” said the customer, Mohammad Nazam, a former Birmingham City Council member who owns three supermarkets and has known the family more than 40 years.

But just a few hours later, Tayib was one of 24 Muslim men arrested in the plot to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic, only a day after his brother, Rashid, was arrested in Pakistan amid allegations that he was one of the chief plotters.

Little is known about the strength of the British government’s evidence against the suspects. But at this early, sketchy stage, the three men of the Rauf family and the charity the father helped found are at the heart of the investigation into a plot that has shaken Britain.

A central question is whether there was any connection between the mostly young and British-born people who have been detained and the world of sophisticated terrorism based thousands of miles away in the murky recesses of Pakistan and Afghanistan. With much unknown a week after the plot was revealed, the Rauf family represents the strongest possibility of such a link.

A British police official, who has been briefed on the inquiry, said, “The Raufs were targeted precisely because of the family’s links to extremist groups in Pakistan that have, over the years, come to work hand in glove with Al Qaeda.” The official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about the investigation, said that the family had “been flagged red for months” and that the authorities had come to see Tayib as the leader of the plot in Britain and Rashid as the connection to Pakistan. But he warned that “what is unclear yet is how far this inquiry has been able to trace their links back to some so-called mastermind in Pakistan.”

For years before the airline bombing plot, the Rauf family seemed to have attracted an unusual amount of suspicion, and not only for their ties to Pakistan. Their house in Birmingham was searched, the police say, after two slayings, including the killing of the sons’ uncle. Banking regulators put the elder Rauf’s charity account under review in March this year. In the summer of 2005, after the subway and bus bombings here that killed 52 people and 4 bombers, a neighbor of the charity’s office in East London became so suspicious that she called Britain’s antiterrorism hot line.

The operator, she said, dismissed her worries. Odd comings and goings at night at the store, a sudden switch from importing cookies to providing charity, all soon after the bombings, did not add up to terrorism. “I understood what they meant,” said the neighbor, Linda Brown, 48, a former secretary at the business next door to the charity, Crescent Relief, which operates in an industrial park in the Dagenham section. “But maybe if they had investigated, if they had snooped around, who knows what they might have found?”

In fact there is evidence that at least one of the men in detention was involved in the Rauf charity. Last October, The Bucks Free Press, in High Wycombe, listed one suspect, Khuram Ali, as a local contact for donations to Crescent Relief to help victims of the October 2005 Kashmir earthquake. The paper, which said 1,000 tents had been flown to Kashmir, also listed a phone number for Mr. Ali that is no longer in service.

In High Wycombe, where Mr. Ali lived, a neighbor of his, Ashley Tighe, said in an interview on Saturday that Mr. Ali had told him that he was involved in a charitable effort to send tents to the areas hit by the quake.

“He said that he was doing work for a charity and that they had sent over tents because of the earthquake, but that some of them had gone missing at the airport,” Mr. Tighe recalled. He said he understood that the charity was also sending food and clothing to the area.

The whereabouts of Abdul Rauf, 52, are unknown. Relatives and neighbors have said that he was visiting Pakistan at the time of the arrests. ABC News has reported that he, too, has been placed in custody in Pakistan, but the government there has not confirmed that. British authorities have not suggested that Abdul Rauf was involved in the plot, nor have his assets been frozen by the Bank of England, which did act against most of the other suspects.

The portrait of Mr. Rauf that emerges from interviews with friends, neighbors and business associates seems defined by an intensity of religious devotion and a determination not to let go of Pakistan and its traditions amid modern, secular British life.

In all, Mr. Rauf seemed the archetype of the successful immigrant, who like most of Britain’s Pakistanis, came from the Mirpur district in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. He ran a bakery making flat bread and sold cakes and cookies imported from Pakistan, neighbors and a business associate said. He was also deeply involved in charity work, forming Crescent Relief in 2000, and more recently giving money for victims of the earthquake in Kashmir and the 2004 tsunami in Asia.

“They were a working-class family who had very little social time,” said Nassar Mahmood, a trustee of the Central Mosque in Birmingham. “They haven’t really reaped the full fruits of their business.”

But, he added, they had no animosity toward Britain. “I can tell when someone feels alienated or angry about the country’s policies,” he said. “But that was not these people. They enjoyed their lives in Britain.”

At the same time, like many Pakistani immigrants here, Mr. Rauf regularly visited his home village, Haveli Beghal, where he kept a house and reportedly financed the construction of a mosque. He was there attending a wedding, friends say, when his sons were arrested.

And he was so steadfast in his beliefs that he built a little study center for Muslim children in a shed on the back patio of his house on St. Margaret’s Road in Birmingham.

A next-door neighbor, June Lethbridge, said that anywhere from a dozen to 20 youngsters would attend classes there three to four times a week. Mr. Rauf’s wife, who never left the house without her head and face covered, gave Koran lessons to girls.

“The best I can remember was that this all started four or five years ago,” Mrs. Lethbridge said. “It was amazing that they could all fit in there.”

Some tension between cultures in this case — possibly between traditional law and that of their adopted nation — seemed to explode for the Rauf family in April 2002.

Mohammad Saeed, a delivery driver and a brother-in-law of the elder Mr. Rauf, was stabbed to death in April 2002 at his house in Birmingham, in front of his wife and two children. He was 54. No one was ever arrested, though the Rauf house was searched. Rashid Rauf, believed to be 29, fled to Pakistan soon after.

The police never formally identified a suspect, but news reports pointed to Rashid and what was said to be a family dispute that possibly led to an “honor killing,” not uncommon in Pakistan, and often involving possible sexual misbehavior. The West Midlands police refused to comment, other than to confirm that the Rauf’s house had been searched in connection with the killing.

Three years later, the family came under suspicion when riots between black and Asian youths broke out in Birmingham, leaving among the dead a young black man, Isaiah Youngsam. The police confirm that the Rauf family home was again searched over that killing, though other suspects were later arrested.

In the last week, the authorities in Pakistan have described Rashid Rauf as a central figure in the plot and as the prime connection between Britain and Pakistan with links, they say, to Al Qaeda and other militant groups.

There is no evidence that he ever returned to Britain after 2002. About a year after arriving in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf married and later settled in southern Punjab, in the town of Bahawalpur, which is also the home of Jaish-e-Muhammad, one of the most extreme Islamist groups in Pakistan, with strong ties to Al Qaeda.

His sister-in-law is married to the brother of the group’s founder, Maulana Masood Azhar, and members have said Rashid Rauf was himself a member through its various incarnations. But this week in Bahawalpur, where donkey carts jostle for space with bicycles and farm vehicles, fearful neighbors and local officials were not willing to provide many details about his life there.

“They were very exceptionally rich,” said one neighbor, in the deeply poor village. “They had a lot of money and everyone was wondering how they had the money.”

Various news accounts here in Britain, citing anonymous law enforcement officials, suggested that money from the family’s charity might have been diverted to the plot. Last week the Charity Commission of England and Wales said it was looking into that possibility.

The last official filing with the commission showed Crescent Relief had a gross income of £89,202, about $168,000, in the fiscal year that ended in October 2004.

In March, the account came under scrutiny from its bank, Barclays, over a £50,000 ($94,000) transfer in 2005 to an account at Saudi Pak Bank, said one person briefed on the investigation into the account, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The person said neither the amount nor the destination of the transfer itself made after the earthquake in Kashmir last year raised concerns. Instead, the account was put under review because the person making the transfer failed to provide proper identification.

The charity’s office in Dagenham also attracted the attention of neighbors last year. Ms. Brown, the secretary of a nearby office, said that after several years of operating as a warehouse for imported Pakistani cookies and cakes, it changed soon after the London bombings into a charity to help Kashmir.

People at the new charity, she said, began distributing pamphlets on the plight of people in Kashmir, a region that is the subject of a dispute between Pakistan and India. Ms. Brown and a co-worker said trucks arrived at all hours, especially at night, and backed entirely into the office bay before unloading, as if trying to hide the contents.

“They were so secretive about what was going in and out,” said the co-worker, Kay Charles, 60.

In the heightened concern after last year’s attacks, Ms. Brown said she called the antiterrorism hot line. She said she was still uncertain that anything wrong was going on. It was, she said, “just a gut feeling.”

One of the charity’s trustees, Mohammad Farooq, who had also served as a director but left the charity several months ago, said it was completely legitimate. “It’s totally normal,” Mr. Farooq said in an interview at his house in East London.

With Abdul Rauf in Pakistan this month, one friend said the younger son, Tayib, 22, was left to run the business. “He knows what products are best to buy for his purposes and what prices to get,” said the friend, Abid Hussain, a manager of a supermarket in Birmingham.

His other interest, several people said, was the local mosque that adheres to Wahhabism, the strict sect followed by many militants.

One friend, who said he had known Tayib for nine years and attended school with him but declined to give his name, said the family was culturally divided between Pakistan and Britain. The friend remembered that when Tayib recently discussed marriage with his father, the father said it did not need to be an arranged one.

“If Tayib thought the girl was right for him, he could marry her,” the friend said. “The parents were not that strict.”

Reporting for this article was contributed by Heather Timmons and Stephen Grey from London, Souad Mekhennet from Birmingham, Carlotta Gall from Bahawalpur, Pakistan, and Margot Williams from New York.


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