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August 17, 2006
Pakistan: British Sky Terror Plot Started With AQ #3

Pakistani sources indentify al-Qaeda's #3 man as the originator of the plot to attack airliners in Britain in perhaps the largest-scale plot since 9/11. Abu Faraj al-Libbi personally directed the terror conspiracy and used Rashid Rauf as the main liaison between AQ leadership and the British cell:

Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who after Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri, is suspected of being al-Qaida's third in command, has been named by Pakistani security sources as the main planner of the alleged plot, according to Dawn, a daily newspaper. He has also been accused of being in a plot to assassinate Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, and was arrested last year and turned over to the US.

A security official said: "There was a mastermind, there was a planner, and there were the executioners." He claimed the al-Qaida link to the alleged plot in Britain had been established and that it had been at the planning stage when it was interrupted in London last week.

Mr Rauf, who has dual nationality, is being held for interrogation after his arrest in Bahawalpur last week. He has appeared once in court and can be held initially for 28 days, a process that can be repeated for up to a year. Further details of his movements emerged last night as the father of Masood Azhar, head of the banned militant organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, told Reuters that he had left the movement to join rivals more interested in al-Qaida's anti-western message. "He was a member of our group but later deserted and joined our rivals," Hafiz Allah Bukhsh said at Jaish's HQ in Bahawalpur. "Our cause is Kashmir, their cause is Afghanistan. They are anti-American, we're not."

Pakistani authorities arrested al-Libbi in the spring of 2005, which I noted at the time. Al-Libbi was determined to have taken the place of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after the capture of the author of 9/11. After Pervez Musharraf and George Bush hailed the capture as a blow against AQ, some argued that al-Libbi was nothing more than a mid-level manager. A French intelligence expert on terrorist finance said at the time that al-Libbi never did anything more ambitious than facilitate connections between AQ and local Pakistani Islamists.

If the sources prove correct, this appears to prove otherwise. It also shows how long this plot has taken to reach fruition, since its main cheerleader has remained in custody for the last fifteen months. The 9/11 plot took two years or more to plan and execute, and it took less technical expertise than this plot.

Some have wondered whether Rashid Rauf had intended on becoming a terrorist mastermind. The Guardian makes his Islamist impulses plain. Rauf only came to al-Qaeda after spending time with Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamist militia in the disputed Kashmir region. A JeM leader, Hafiz Allah Bukhsh, told reporters that Rauf left his group due to the organization's limited scope. JeM only concerns itself with Kashmir and holds no particular portfolio for attacks on the US or UK. Rauf wanted to take his jihad global, and deserted JeM for their "rivals", as Bukhsh considers AQ.

Details uncovered by this investigation show that terrorists still plan for big attacks against the West. We stopped them from doing so successfully in this case and exposed more of their network. If we are to remain successful, we have to continue using all the tools available to us. The terrorists continue to adapt to our defenses, and we need to ensure that we can adapt to theirs as well.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 17, 2006 5:48 AM

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