How the British Islamist Rashid Rauf may have been caught up in the US campaign to tackle terrorists in PakistanJason Burke in Islamabad
guardian.co.uk, Saturday November 22 2008 12.09 GMT
United States forces are believed to have carried out about 20 missile attacks since August in north-west Pakistan, a sharp rise that reflects Washington's frustration at Islamabad's efforts to tackle militants on its own soil.
Though the attacks have killed a number of high-profile militant leaders, civilian casualties and wounded national pride has led to outrage in Pakistan. The Pakistani government has been forced to repeatedly deny reports that a secret pact has been agreed with the US to allow the missile attacks from Afghanistan territory to go ahead.
Pakistani government officials and military officers last week denied the existence of a "secret list" of 20 individuals against whom missile strikes had been sanctioned by Islamabad without prior consultation. They repeatedly told the Observer that the strikes were causing problems by angering local people. "One strike and you have a whole village radicalised," said Shafir Ullah Nasir, the political agent in the Bajaur tribal agency where fighting has raged for months.
Pakistan's new civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, has urged Washington to share intelligence and equip Pakistani forces so they can pursue militants on their own side of the border.
Intelligence officials in Islamabad have told the Observer that the strikes have demoralised militants, forcing many to sleep in different locations every night or even sleep under trees for cover rather than risk staying in a house. The heightened rate of attrition among the militants has sparked a hunt for a suspected spy within their ranks, diverting attention and resources from offensive actions, the officials said.
Pakistan has played a key role in the evolution of the terrorist threat in the UK. Many major bomb plots in Britain have involved British or dual-nationality citizens who have travelled to Pakistan for training or strategic advice from the hardcore al-Qaida leadership who have regrouped in the lawless tribal zones along the Afghan frontier in recent years.
Several dozen British citizens who are known to the UK government make their way to the frontier region each year, with Pakistani militant groups often acting as intermediaries. Intelligence officials suspect there are others who they have been unable to identify.
Some go on to fight in Afghanistan, others return to the UK. Britain's MI6 overseas intelligence agents work closely with their American counterparts to track individuals who they believe pose a "material" threat to the UK. Rashid Rauf would have fallen squarely into this category.
As MI6 has neither the capability nor the legal right to undertake lethal operations in Pakistan, intelligence is passed to the Americans who run a fleet of drones fitted with Hellfire missiles powerful enough to destroy a mud-walled home and burn everyone inside. Rauf may well have fallen into the latter category too.
US missiles striking terror into Pakistani militants