ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A British citizen linked to a plot to blow up jetliners flying across the Atlantic was believed killed Saturday by an apparent U.S. missile attack on an al-Qaida 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 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,” Rehman said. “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-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden may be hiding.
A Taliban spokesman insisted 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.
However, three Pakistani intelligence officials, citing reports from field agents as well as intercepted militant communications, said they believed Rauf and al-Masri were among five killed.
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 Rauf had allegedly been in contact with a group in Britain planning to smuggle liquid explosives onto trans-Atlantic flights and also with a suspected al-Qaida mastermind of the plot in Afghanistan.