Pakistan: Another Embarassing Terror Suspect Escape on President Bush's Watch
Posted by Brian Katulis
Here in Islamabad, Pakistani authorities are scrambling to explain how Rashid Rauf (pictured here) the alleged mastermind of a August 2006 plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights from Britain slipped away from Pakistani police this weekend.
Though the news media is abuzz about yet another videotape from Ayman Zawahiri (Al Qaeda's second in command probably somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan), people should carefully watch what happens in the case of Rashid Rauf' in the coming days and weeks.
The circumstances surrounding Rauf's escape are still murky. Earlier last week, BBC reported that a Pakistani judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to try Rauf, reinforcing skepticism about how real the plot was. The New York Times reports this morning that Rauf escaped after an extradition hearing on Saturday here. One Pakistani newspaper reports today more unusual details and circumstances - that the two policemen responsible for Rauf were transporting him back to jail in a private taxi cab and had allowed Rauf to perform prayers at a mosque, where he escaped using the backdoor wearing his handcuffs.
Whatever the circumstances, this incident could be deeply embarrassing for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who imposed emergency rule in early November using the threat of insecurity and terrorism as the main rationale (and then throwing thousands of mostly secular lawyers, judges, and human rights activists in jail). The same day emergency rule was lifted a key terror suspect flees.
More broadly, Rauf's escape raises questions about the growing numbers of terror suspects and terrorists that have given authorities the slip over the past four years. The record is abysmal, and more people should be asking questions. Few other recent escapes that people should ask about include:
1. July 2005 Bagram prison escape. Four detainees escaped from the secretive and supposedly highly secure U.S. detention facility in Bagram. Omar Al-Faruq, one of the escapees, was reportedly killed in Basra, Iraq in September 2006. Another escapee, Abu Yahya al-Libi, remains on the loose and returned to his role as a chief Al Qaeda propagandist. Profiled recently by the Washington Post as one of the key leaders in a revived Al Qaeda network, al-Libi brags about the escape in this video.
2. Several escapes and releases in Yemen. In 2003, 10 Al Qaeda suspects escaped from a prison in Aden, Yemen. Another 23 escaped from a prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a in February 2006. Earlier this year, the United States used the suspension of development assistance to pressure Yemen to detain once again Jamal al-Badawi, one of the 2006 escapees who turned himself in October of this year and reportedly was placed under some form of house arrest by Yemeni authorities.
3. Zarqawi's release in 2004. Iraqi authorities reportedly detained and released the former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi more than a year before his death in June 2006, giving him time to foment sectarian strife and lead a movement that murdered thousands of Iraqis.
Nearly everyone knows about how top Al Qaeda leaders were allowed to slip away at the end of 2001 in Tora Bora, and Democrats in Congress understandably complain about the thousands of days that Osama Bin Laden has been on the loose.
But where is the Congressional oversight hearings on these escapes by terror detainees and suspects? Where is the investigative journalism into these failures? And will the applicants to become the next U.S. commander-in-chief move beyond vague campaign rhetoric and offer more concrete plans to address these failures and the continued challenges posed by terror networks?