Posts Tagged ‘British jihad’

I had a piece in the weekend’s Sunday Times News Review section looking at the phenomenon of Brits going to foreign battlefields and coming back posing a terrorist threat. For some reason, it only shows up in their e-version of the newspaper and on the iPad version, but not online more generally. Anyway, they have allowed me to republish it here, so thank you to the editors for that.

Beyond this, I spoke to the Telegraph about this topic and the recent ISIS video to surface with Brits in it, about some Brits linked to al Muhajiroun who jumped bail and seem to have surfaced in Syria for the BBC, to Channel 4, NBC and Voice of America about ISIS and Iraq. On the other side of the equation, I spoke to Caixin about China in Afghanistan and South China Morning Post about Xinjiang.

Coming Back to Britain, Bringing Jihad

Sunday Times Review piece how terror comes home

It was the summer of 2001 and two British lads from Beeston, in Leeds, had made their way to a training camp in Pakistan, eager to fulfil their responsibility to support Muslims suffering elsewhere in the world. Having done two weeks’ training, the pair were debating heading back home when two Emiratis at the camp suggested they go to see Afghanistan and the Taliban.

Years later, in court on terrorism conspiracy charges, Waheed Ali recounted to a jury: “I’m thinking, ‘Whatever, innit, Afghanistan, let’s go for a little wander.’” Ali and his companion, Mohammed Siddique Khan — known as Sid — headed off by car to the front lines near Kabul. For Khan this was the beginning of a journey that ended four years later when he led an al Qaeda-directed cell in an attack on London on July 7, 2005.

Last week David Cameron spoke about the Sunni jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Isis). “The people in [Isis], as well as trying to take territory, are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom,” he said. It is a menace that becomes real through individuals such as Khan, who are first drawn to fighting in foreign fields and end up launching terrorist attacks back home.

British fighters have been a feature of almost every jihadist battlefield since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Seeing them in Iraq and Syria now is no surprise. What is equally certain is that some sort of terrorist plot will eventually emerge with links to the battlefields in Syria and Iraq. In fact it already has, in the form of a number of disrupted plots across Europe and the murderous rampage at a Jewish museum in Brussels last month.

While not every fighter who goes to Syria will return as a terrorist threat, the question is: how many more such attacks can we expect, and at what point might Isis or some other jihadist group in Syria decide that its crop of foreign fighters is a useful vehicle for launching punishing attacks against the West?

In late 2004 Ali and Khan set off again for Pakistan to return to training camps, this time in two separate groups. Before leaving, Khan recorded a video that featured Ali, along with Khan’s fellow 7/7 conspirator Shehzad Tanweer — whom they affectionately knew as Kaki — in which he said farewell to his baby daughter, telling her: “I have to do this for our future and it will be for the best.”

Arriving in Pakistan ahead of Ali, Khan and Tanweer told the British al-Qaeda connection they met there that they had come to train and ultimately go to Afghanistan “to fight against the Americans”. After a few days they were introduced to “Haji”, a senior al-Qaeda figure who, according to a report by their British al-Qaeda guide, “convinced the brothers [Khan and Tanweer] to return and do a martyrdom operation in UK”.

By the time Ali arrived at the Pakistani training camp, his friends’ behaviour had changed, and within a few weeks they announced to him that they had to go back to “do something for the brothers”. This proved to be the 7/7 bomb­ings in London, part of a chain of plots directed by al-Qaeda against the UK that used the pipeline of zealous young British men who had originally sought to fight in Afghanistan as weapons against the West.

Almost two years to the day after the 7/7 attacks, a pair of car bombs failed to go off in Haymarket, central London, saving unknown numbers of revellers at the Tiger Tiger nightclub. The next day Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed attempted to drive a car bomb into Glasgow International airport’s main terminal. Fortunately for travellers, the attackers failed to get inside the building, and their bomb detonated outside, fatally wounding Ahmed and injuring Abdullah.

In court a year later the prosecution produced a letter that had been found on Abdullah’s computer, addressed to the “Soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq”, in which he declared: “God knows that the days I spent with you were the best and most rewarding days of my life.”

Security officials believe that in 2006, on a trip to visit his family’s home in Iraq, Abdullah had linked up with elements connected to the anti-US insurgency. If the letter is to be believed, it was the Islamic State of Iraq, the precursor to Isis. What he did with the group is unclear, though the similarity of his device to bombs that were often going off in Iraq suggests he may have developed some ideas while there.

Certainly, on the stand at his trial Abdullah spoke of his anger over British foreign policy towards his mother country, but it was not clear that he had received any direction in launching his attack with Ahmed. Instead, online conversations between the two show them joking about “starting experiments” and discussing how to build detonators.

Plots by foreign fighters have also emerged from places where the link between the home country and the battlefield is harder to establish. Mohammed Muhidin Gelle was a Somali Dane who was drawn to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab and was picked up by the Kenyan authorities in 2009 as part of a cell plotting attacks during a visit to Nairobi by Hillary Clinton, then the US secretary of state.

He was repatriated to Denmark but did not renounce his extremist ideas and later attempted to murder with an axe the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who had created an image that he accused of mocking the prophet Muhammad. Al-Shabaab acknowledged it knew Gelle and praised him, saying “we appreciate the incident in which a Muslim Somali boy attacked the devil who abused our prophet”, but failed to claim Gelle’s act.

Track forward to today and authorities in Europe have already seen a number of worrying plots linked to Syria. Earlier this year French authorities arrested a man identified as Ibrahim B who had spoken in online communications of wanting to “punish France”. At his rented accommodation they found drink cans fashioned into nail bombs with about 2lb of triacetone triperoxide, or TATP — an explosive linked to the 7/7 bombings.

Part of a network of extremists in France that was connected to an attack on a Jewish grocer’s in Paris in 2012, Ibrahim B had fled a crackdown on the network and gone with two friends to Syria, where they had fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s representative group in the country.

The full details of what the alleged attacker at the Jewish museum, Mehdi Nemmouche, was doing are unclear, but when he was arrested, a machine­gun was found in his possession wrapped in an Isis flag. Soon after his arrest a French Isis fighter in Syria tweeted that Nemmouche had fought with Isis using the name Abu Omar al-Firansi. The tweet was rapidly deleted.

So far there has been no public evidence that these individuals or the plots that have been disrupted have been directed by Isis. However, as history has shown, clear command and direction by a jihadist group is not essential for people who to come back from foreign battlefields with murderous intent. Most chilling for western security watchers is a statement in January by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, who, singling out America, declared: “Know, O de­fender of the Cross, that a proxy war will not help you in the Levant, just as it will not help you in Iraq. Soon, you will be in direct conflict — God permitting — against your will. The youths of Islam have steeled themselves for this day.”

The question that remains un­answered is whether the “youths of Islam” he was referring to are European fighters — and whether some of them have already been sent back to carry out his deadly threat.

A new post for CNN, this one expanding on some brief comments in my earlier letter to the Financial Times. I see it has inspired a certain amount of vitriol on their comments. The overall point here is to highlight the fact that a bad situation is being allowed to simply get worse to no-one’s benefit and the long-term implications are going to be negative. Per CNN’s agreement, I have only posted the first 150 odd words here, please follow the hyperlinks to read the whole piece. UPDATE (Oct 20, 2012): I realize I owe Shashank a note of thanks for reading an earlier draft of this.

Analysis: The Lure of the Jihad and the Danger to Europe

By Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Raffaello Pantucci is an associate fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College and the author of the forthcoming “We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen” (Hurst).

A growing number of young Europeans drawn to protect their abandoned Muslim brethren have taken up arms in Syria. It’s a dynamic that Europe has witnessed before.

In the 1990s, young Europeans were enticed by the idea of fighting jihad in Bosnia. Spurred on by radical preachers, young men and women were drawn to fight to protect their Muslim brethren merely a bus ride away.

Before the September 11 attack in 2001, the notion of fighting in a holy war was something far from most people’s minds and reserved for history books about the Crusades. Occasional appearances by fearsome looking radical preachers at rallies where people would shout about holy war were shown every so often on television, but that was the extent of public knowledge of the issue.

But there was more going on, mostly unseen to the average citizen in Europe. In the mid-1990s as Yugoslavia started to fall apart, stories emerged of middle-class Europeans being killed fighting and of Western forces finding groups of fighters with British accents among the Bosnian ranks.


I have a piece in this month’s CTC Sentinel, the journal of the West Point Combating Terrorism Center. It focuses on Rashid Rauf, a figure that has appeared in a number of other pieces that I have written – most prominently in these two (and will feature in the book) – but to my knowledge has not been profiled in such a comprehensive way yet. My initial inspiration for this was an old academic article about Dhiren Barot, another Briton who rose up the ranks, though I think the conclusion is that Rauf was more important. I was also quoted in this Birmingham (where he was from) press story about Rauf.

One detail that my friend Paul Cruickshank has pointed out to me since publication was that in court, Bryant Neal Vinas did not recognize a picture of Rauf that was shown to him, suggesting he may not have met him. The Rotella story that I quote in the piece indicates they did encounter each other, but apparently in court Vinas denied it. I had thought they met, but maybe not. In any case, comments and more welcome.

A Biography of Rashid Rauf: Al-Qa’ida’s British Operative

Jul 24, 2012

Author: Raffaello Pantucci

Like a ghost in the machine, the figure of British jihadist Rashid Rauf is one that continues to emerge on the fringes of terrorist plots. A Kashmiri Briton whose life story epitomizes the Pakistani connection to Britain’s jihadist community, Rauf was a young man who left the United Kingdom after the 9/11 attacks to connect with extremist networks in Pakistan. Having joined Kashmiri oriented networks that increasingly became intertwined with al-Qa`ida, he rose up the ranks, featuring in the background of a number of different plots—from the July 7, 2005, attacks in London to the 2006 liquid explosives plot targeting transatlantic airliners. After a brief period in Pakistani custody, Rauf escaped and once again played a role in a number of serious al-Qa`ida attempts against the West, including the 2009 plot by Najibullah Zazi to attack New York City’s subway system.

His exact role in al-Qa`ida, however, has not been carefully explored publicly, in particular to try to assess how important the Briton was within the organization and to see whether he was merely a point of contact or a more operational leader. Given the fact that plots connected to him continued to be uncovered almost two years after his reported death in a U.S. drone strike in Waziristan in November 2008, confusion continues to dominate his narrative. In an attempt to try to pry apart the man from the myth, this article provides a detailed assessment of what is known about Rashid Rauf before drawing some conclusions about his position in al-Qa`ida.

Birmingham Youth
Rashid Rauf was born in Mirpur, Pakistan, in 1981 and moved to Birmingham as a child.[1] His father, Abdul, moved with his family in the early 1980s as part of the chain of migrations from that part of Pakistan to the United Kingdom. Living in the Alum Rock part of Birmingham, the Rauf family settled quickly into a normal life within the fiercely nationalistic Kashmiri immigrant community. In 1984, a group of men from the community calling themselves members of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Army (a previously unknown group, they named the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a known group, as their mediators) kidnapped Birmingham-based Indian Deputy Consul General Ravindra Mhatre and demanded the release of imprisoned leaders in India and £1 million sterling. When their demands were not met, they executed Mhatre and dumped his body outside a farm near the city.[2] While the murder was a shock to many, it highlighted the strength of pro-Kashmiri feeling among the community.

Throughout the 1990s, jihadist leaders from Kashmir would travel through Birmingham and other British Pakistani communities raising money. One such individual who made this journey was Maulana Masood Azhar, who in 1992-1993 was reported to have given fiery speeches in Birmingham at mosques near where Rauf was being brought up raising money for Kashmiri fighters.[3] An apparently impressive speaker, an attendee told local journalist Amardeep Bassey that they saw women taking off their jewelry after conferences and handing it over to the preacher in support of Kashmir.[4]

The Rauf family was not atypical in its activity support of the Kashmiri cause, and came from a long line of distinguished religious leadership.[5] Reports have stated Abdul Rauf was a religious judge back in Kashmir, a role he continued in Birmingham.[6] He also helped found Crescent Relief, a charitable organization that sent many thousands of British pounds to provide support in the wake of the October 2005 earthquake in Kashmir (although it is not clear Abdul Rauf was still involved then). The family’s mother apparently used a garden shed as a makeshift school in which she would give free Islamic classes to local children.[7] Rashid Rauf’s childhood home was near an Ahl-e-Hadith mosque,[8] the strict religious sect that has historically gone hand-in-hand with Lashkar-i-Tayyiba to provide religious indoctrination to their fighters.

Rauf attended Washwood Heath High School that became infamous in 1996 (while Rauf was a student) when a teacher, Israr Khan, leapt up after a rendition of carol-singing shouting “Who is your God? Why are you saying Jesus and Jesus Christ? God is not your God—it is Allah.”[9] Another teacher expressed little surprise at the revelation that Rauf had been to the school, saying, “I’m not at all surprised that someone from the school has been implicated. There were some very influential radical elements there.”[10] In 1999, he was awarded a place at Portsmouth University, although it remains unclear what he was studying.[11] Alongside him at the university was another Birmingham-Pakistani named Mohammed Gulzar, who while from the same background as Rauf appears to have come from a family far less involved in local politics.[12] A student at a nearby school in Birmingham, Gulzar lived a few streets away from Rauf and the two were apparently close as children.[13] The two are believed to have been involved in Islamic societies at the university and it is thought that this may have been at the root of why they never completed their studies. Gulzar and Rauf were reported to have started attending Tablighi Jama`at sessions in 2000,[14] and a childhood friend of Gulzar’s reported that after returning from a trip to Pakistan that year, Gulzar “was much more devout. He had grown a long beard and seemed a lot quieter and more focused.”[15]

During breaks in school, Rauf was reported to have been assisting his father’s bakery business delivering cakes to local shops.[16] He was also seen at the local gym, played football with other locals and prayed relatively regularly at the mosque.[17] At the time, Birmingham had a number of gangs involved in defending local minority communities from right-wing attacks, and while it is not clear that Rauf was a member, he was reportedly close to one of the key members of the Aston Panthers.[18] He is also understood to have been close to an uncle living in East London who was involved in the Kashmiri struggle.[19] It is uncertain whether this uncle was involved in the East London charity “Crescent Relief” that Rauf’s father had helped establish and that was reported by neighbors in 2005 (after Rauf’s father had stepped down from his role) to have started to distribute flyers highlighting the plight of Kashmiris.[20]

In April 2002, Rauf and Gulzar abruptly left the country to go to Pakistan, wanted for questioning in the murder of an uncle of Rauf’s named Mohammed Saeed.[21] The exact causes of the “frenzied stabbing” are unclear, with speculation that jihadist politics[22] or an arranged marriage[23] may have been causes. A couple of months prior to the murder, Gulzar and Rauf were reportedly spotted at an internet cafe in Portsmouth where they researched a U.S. aviation firm and purchased a GPS map receiver and “various compass/map CDs” using fraudulent credit cards.[24] It is unclear if they were traveling together, but this equipment would have proved useful to Rauf who by the middle of 2002 had reached Bahawalpur, Pakistan. Gulzar was ultimately acquitted of all charges against him.

Linking to Al-Qa`ida
Once Rauf reached Bahawalpur, his links to the Kashmiri jihad became clearer. Soon after arriving, he married the daughter of Ghulam Mustafa, the founder of the Darul Uloom Madina, a famous local Deobandi madrasa.[25] According to one report, Rauf knew Mustafa from when the preacher had stayed at the family home in Birmingham.[26] Another of Mustafa’s daughters is married to Masood Azhar,[27] the jihadist leader who visited Birmingham and who had since 1992 risen to establish his own Kashmir oriented jihadist group, Jaysh-i-Muhammad.

According to Rauf’s confessions to Pakistani interrogators in 2006, his intention in 2002 was to go and fight the United States in Afghanistan.[28] Arriving in Pakistan, Rauf claimed he connected with Amjad Hussein Farooqi, a senior Pakistani member of Jaysh-i-Muhammad with close links to al-Qa`ida.[29] Rauf claimed that he first went to Afghanistan with Farooqi in mid-2002 and from there was able to establish a close connection with a number of core al-Qa`ida members.[30] When Farooqi was killed in a police raid in 2004, Rauf’s connection within al-Qa`ida seems to have shifted to Abu Faraj al-Libi,[31] a senior member of al-Qa`ida described as head of external operations, who was reportedly in regular contact with operatives in the United Kingdom. Other Britons al-Libi is believed to have been in contact with include Mohammed al-Ghabra, a Syrian still living in East London who has been identified in British court documents as having stayed with al-Libi for a week in 2002.[32] Al-Ghabra was later accused of being involved in the 2006 transatlantic airliners plot (although no specific charges were laid against him) and is listed on the UN sanctions list as being associated with al-Qa`ida and al-Libi in particular.[33]

By 2004, Rauf was still a relatively low-level player within the organization, as he does not appear much in secondary reporting. For example, in the large Operation Crevice plot (which was disrupted by authorities in March 2004)—the first large-scale British plot in which a group of mostly second-generation Pakistani-Britons from London’s environs planned to explode a large fertilizer device at a shopping mall—Rashid Rauf does not feature. Behind the scenes, however, it seems it was around this time that Rauf’s first major plot came together.

According to a post-operation report that European and U.S. security services believe was written by Rauf,[34] at around this time a young Pakistani-Briton known as Umar made his way to Waziristan and connected with an individual identified in documents as Haji, but believed to be Abu Ubaydah al-Masri.[35] According to Rauf, Haji persuaded Umar to train for a martyrdom operation back in Europe and was sent to the United Kingdom in June 2004 once he had been trained in how to use hydrogen peroxide as an explosive.[36] The connection, however, seems to have been through Haji, with Rauf playing a supportive role.

While Umar failed to carry out his attack, Rauf reported that he did pass on the contacts for Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two men Umar knew and whom he trusted. Rauf waited a couple of weeks before making contact with the two men and assessed whether they seemed dedicated enough to the cause.[37] Having concluded the men were committed, he traveled with them into the tribal areas putting them in direct contact with Haji. Leaving them with the leader for a couple of days, by the time he returned Haji had persuaded them to carry out attacks in the United Kingdom.[38] Rauf then chaperoned the two men around the tribal regions to get explosives training, record their suicide videos, and instruct them on the targets they should aim for once back in the United Kingdom. At a certain point, he reported planning to travel back with the two to help them with their operation, but that he was unable to get a clean passport in time.[39] In any event, by February 8, 2005, Khan and Tanweer moved back to the United Kingdom.[40] Rauf continued to manage the plot from afar, using Yahoo messenger, e-mails and mobile phones to help them decide on targeting and helping them when they encountered problems, for example in the concentration of the hydrogen peroxide.[41]

In December 2004, Rauf reported receiving information that a new group of three Britons had arrived in the tribal areas—Muktar Said Ibrahim, Rizwan Majid and Shakeel Ismail (though they were all using cover names).[42] Ibrahim boasted to his roommate as he left that he was off to “do jihad” and that “maybe [he] wouldn’t see [Ibrahim] again, maybe [they] were going to see each other in heaven.”[43] Having waited a couple of weeks, Rauf made contact and spent some time with the men assessing their credentials and their potential use as plotters. He then dispatched them to meet with Haji who took them to be trained in explosives.[44] Likely more focused on the eventual July 7, 2005, plotters, Rauf spent less time with the men, reporting that while they were receiving their explosives training there was an accident during which Majid and Ismail were killed. When he met Ibrahim again, it was in Islamabad and the two had a short period in which to record his suicide video, arrange his return flight, organize codes and methods of communication and ensure that Ibrahim was ready for his operation.[45]

The shortened timeline was due to the need to get Ibrahim out of the country before his visa expired. Rauf reported that everything came together and he received a note from Ibrahim saying he had arrived safely in the United Kingdom.[46] After this, however, there was silence with no responses using the predetermined methods. Through other contacts, Rauf was able to reach out to Ibrahim, but all he heard back was that the operation was proceeding.[47]

In the end, the first plot succeeded and the second did not. Rauf ascribed the fact that he was able to keep contact with Khan as the key behind success, since he could manage the operation and help Khan work through the technical difficulties with the hydrogen peroxide. Based on Rauf’s assessments, it is possible to see that with both cells he acted as the first point of contact for the fighters having been passed their details, vetted them for suitability and then helped them connect with more senior members of al-Qa`ida who trained and persuaded them to become willing suicide bombers back in the United Kingdom. He also helped the plotters record their martyrdom videos and arranged their communication methods.[48] Clearly a key figure in the plots, he was nevertheless a middleman, and one who to some degree must have been viewed as expendable given the fact that he claimed to have attempted to go back to operate alongside the plotters in the United Kingdom, an operationally risky move. Furthermore, the fact that he played a different role with the July 21, 2005, plotters (spending less time with them) suggests that he was not the only operator shepherding cells around at the time.

Rising in the Ranks
The success of the July 7, 2005, operation in London—in which 52 people died on London’s public transportation system—is likely to have raised Rauf’s profile within al-Qa`ida. By the time he came to the transatlantic airliners plot in his post-operation report, Rauf referred to himself and Haji as peers and co-plotters. While it is clear that Haji was still the senior organizer, Rauf had taken on a far more hands-on leadership role in the plot. He described the technical details of how they decided to come to use liquid explosives on planes and other particular aspects of the chemical composition of the devices, suggesting deep involvement in this aspect.[49]

Rauf provided a lot less detail about shepherding the key figures in the plot around the tribal regions, and instead wrote about the individuals like pawns in an operation.[50] He described using methods of communication similar to those he deployed in the earlier plots, but instead this time had a set of mobile numbers he was using for the operation, one for each contact. He described how he had three numbers for contacts in the United Kingdom and one for Pakistan.[51] Court evidence of his control over the plot was provided in the form of e-mails that were supposedly from him (using the nickname “Paps”) or someone linked to him showing Rauf directing key figures on the ground. The language deployed was colloquial British slang, and clearly delivered by someone with good command of the language.[52]

In a separate case linked to the plot, Rauf instructed via e-mail Adam Khatib, one of the younger members of the network, to behave himself after he was arrested for driving illegally.[53] Furthermore, authorities alleged that he dispatched his old Birmingham friend Mohammed Gulzar back to the United Kingdom to act as his man on the ground.[54] During the time since Gulzar had fled from the United Kingdom, the only substantial activities he is identified as doing is traveling back and forth to South Africa to obtain a passport and a wife, and meeting with Mohammed al-Ghabra (which he admitted to in court).[55] Later court documents identified Gulzar as being “in contact with Rauf and with one of the convicted plotters, Assad Sarwar.”[56] As well as being in touch with at least one key figure on the ground in the United Kingdom linked to the airliners plot, authorities alleged that Gulzar was in touch with at least one other potential cell in the United Kingdom.[57] Rauf referred to two other individuals in his report who were not detected, as well as highlighting the purpose of Assad Sarwar to act as bombmaker and to stay undetected for use after the plot.[58]

While this plot has clear evidence of Rauf having moved up the value chain in al-Qa`ida—working to establish networks in Europe for future attacks, coordinating the plot seemingly on the same level as a senior al-Qa`ida leader, involved in most aspects from managing the individuals to the technical aspects of the bomb—it ended up with him being arrested in Pakistan. Largely kept from talking to the press, when he was brought before a court in December 2006 he declared, “I have done nothing wrong but I have been framed. I am not optimistic that I will be cleared…everything against me is based on lies, lies.”[59] Oddly, however, for an innocent man, he did not appear to ask for consular assistance.[60] In fact, the Pakistani courts were forgiving and a judge declared the charges against him “flimsy” and with “no substance,” dropping all the charges.[61] Less than a year later, he had still not been extradited to the United Kingdom, and in September 2007 was ordered released by a Pakistani court.[62] Before any of this could take place, however, in December that year he managed to escape from custody in very questionable circumstances.[63]

Returning to the Fight
Whether anything can be read into his escape and Pakistani unwillingness to extradite him to the United Kingdom is unclear. From an al-Qa`ida perspective, however, Rauf’s escape from custody was a blessing, and he almost immediately started to feature in reports from foreign fighters who joined al-Qa`ida. For example, Bryant Neal Vinas, a young American who came to the tribal belt to join the fighting in Afghanistan in September 2007, claimed to have met Rauf and senior al-Qa`ida ideologue Abu Yahya al-Libi at some point in 2008.[64] In November 2008, a few days before Rauf was allegedly killed in a drone strike, Vinas was captured in Peshawar by Pakistani forces. He claimed to have met senior al-Qa`ida leaders and to have plotted with them to attack the Long Island Rail Road in the United States.[65] Whether it was Rauf who directed him is unclear, but security services in the United Kingdom believe that during 2008 Rauf devised a plan to use a group of local Pashtuns who were to infiltrate the United Kingdom using student visas and allegedly carry out an attack in a northern British city.[66] The specifics of his involvement in the plot are uncertain given the fact that no one has been convicted of the plot and one of the key alleged figures is currently fighting extradition to the United States, obstructing the release of information.

Rauf’s hand was more prominently visible in another plot linked to this group: the cell led by Najibullah Zazi that was intercepted in September 2009 during an attempt to carry out a suicide bombing on the New York City subway system. According to Zazi’s co-conspirator Zarein Ahmedzay, having made contact with al-Qa`ida in Peshawar in September 2008 they were taken by “Ahmad” to Miran Shah in the tribal belt where one day a convoy of vehicles came to meet them bearing Salah al-Somali and Rashid Rauf. Rauf is reported to have told the men that “they would be presented with a serious decision” and had to decide whether they wanted to become suicide bombers.[67] A third cell, connected through an e-mail account that was managed by “Ahmad” who was in touch with individuals from all three groups, was uncovered in Oslo. It is unclear whether Rauf met with the key plotters, although on the presumption that he was indeed killed during a drone strike on November 22, 2008, it would have been difficult for him to meet with the lead plotter Mikael Davud since it was only November 20, 2008, that Davud left Turkey for Iran to make his journey to the tribal belt.[68]

What is clear is that Rauf was no longer the contact man reaching out and vetting recruits or shuttling them around. In both Vinas’ and Ahmedzay’s accounts, he was a figure brought in to talk to the aspirant plotters and then left them to be trained and prepared by others. In this set of cells, it appears as though it was “Ahmad” acting as the courier, bringing the aspirant warriors around, acting as their first point of contact with al-Qa`ida and then later managing the e-mail account through which they could communicate with the al-Qa`ida leaders—roles that Rauf played with the July 7 plotters. His elevation to the core of al-Qa`ida seemed complete, with him now only appearing to talk to foreign recruits alongside senior al-Qa`ida members and presumably acting as an English-speaking figure of importance who could talk to foreigners in their own terms. Having met them, he seemed to slip into the background from where he directed the men immediately handling the plotters—in this case “Ahmad” who acted as the go-between to the various cells. Once established, the plots were seemingly able to run without Rauf’s leadership, something necessary given his reported death on November 22, 2008. It was another five months before the plotters in northern England were uncovered, and almost a year before Najibullah Zazi and his cell were detected in New York.

Rashid Rauf’s body was never found, al-Qa`ida never officially recognized his death and plots with links to him were still being uncovered almost two years after his reported demise. His family is convinced he is alive and in the custody of Pakistani intelligence services,[69] while senior American sources are certain he is dead.[70] Whatever the case, it seems clear that Rashid Rauf was by his death a serious player in al-Qa`ida who had risen up the ranks from a British-Pakistani fixer and foot soldier to the key hub for a number of terrorist plots. His ascension was no doubt accelerated by his Kashmiri jihadist pedigree and his ability to develop close relationships with numerous senior al-Qa`ida figures. Having gained their trust, he was then used as a friendly foreign face who was able to vet and meet foreign fighters who arrived in the tribal belt seeking to connect with al-Qa`ida. For these foreigners, the contact with al-Qa`ida was likely made easier by the presence of someone like Rauf—a Westernized foreigner who could understand their backgrounds and their psychological journey. His death, if true, would have clearly been a loss to the group, although it does not seem as though it has necessarily stopped their capacity to train and dispatch fighters back to plot attacks.

Rauf’s trajectory from a Birmingham Pakistani involved in Kashmiri politics and Islamism to an al-Qa`ida militant is one that is typical of the British jihadist narrative, and one that echoes a number of other narratives. Where Rauf distinguished himself is in having survived within al-Qa`ida in the tribal belt for so long, slowly rising up to a rank of some importance within the group and not ultimately returning to the United Kingdom to attempt to carry out an attack. Instead, from his perch in the tribal belt he acted as a puppeteer to a series of plots that while only successful once, were able to strike fear and terror right into the heart of the West. The 2006 transatlantic airliners plot, with its innovative use of liquid explosives, led to the still current ban on liquids on airplanes. Rashid Rauf, dead or alive, clearly succeeded in making his mark on the world as a key al-Qa`ida figure.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College, and the author of the forthcoming We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

[1] “Allegations of UK Complicity in Torture,” House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights, 23rd Report of Session 2008-2009, July 21, 2009, p. 109.

[2] Regina v. Abdul Quayyum Raja, Royal Courts of Justice, 2004.

[3]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012. A West Midlands based journalist, Bassey has done a lot of work among Birmingham’s Muslim and gang community.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cole Morton and Andrew Buncombe, “The Life and Death of Rashid Rauf,” Independent on Sunday, November 23, 2008.

[7]  Cahal Milmo, Ian Herbert, Jason Bennetto and Justin Huggler, “From Birmingham Bakery to Pakistani Prison, The Mystery of Rashid Rauf,” Independent, August 19, 2006.

[8]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012.

[9]  “Muslim Teacher in Carol Concert Tirade is Made Ofsted Inspector,” Daily Mail, September 30, 2006.

[10] Daily Mirror, August 15, 2006.

[11]  Dominic Casciani, “Profile: Rashid Rauf,” BBC, November 22, 2008.

[12] Unpublished “Special Investigation” into Gulzar for the Sunday Mercury by Ben Goldby.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Mitchell D. Silber, The Al Qaeda Factor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), p. 42.

[15]  Unpublished “Special Investigation” into Gulzar for the Sunday Mercury by Ben Goldby.

[16]  Morton and Buncombe.

[17]  Ibid.

[18] Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012. More famous to readers than the Panthers in Birmingham was the Lynx gang of which Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg was a member. A number of individuals from these groups ended up involved in jihadist activity.

[19]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012.

[20]  Ian Fisher and Serge Kovaleski, “In British Inquiry, a Family Caught in Two Worlds,” New York Times, August 20, 2006.

[21] Richard Greenberg, Paul Cruickshank and Chris Hansen, “Inside the Terror Plot that ‘Rivaled 9/11,’” Dateline NBC, September 14, 2009.

[22] Andrew Alderson, “Rashid Rauf: Profile of a Terror Mastermind,” Daily Telegraph, November 22, 2008.

[23]  Milmo et al.

[24]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AY, Royal Courts of Justice, July 26, 2010.

[25]  “The Radical with Perfect Cover,” Sunday Times, August 20, 2006.

[26]  “Rashid Rauf,” Guardian, November 22, 2008.

[27]  The Radical with Perfect Cover.”

[28]  Asif Farooqi, Carol Grisanti and Robert Windrem, “Sources: UK Terror Plot Suspect Forced to Talk,” NBC News, August 18, 2006.

[29]  Ibid.

[30]  Ibid.

[31]  Silber,  p. 50.

[32]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AY, Royal Courts of Justice, July 26, 2010.

[33]  “Security Council Committee Pursuant to Resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) Concerning Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” United Nations, October 2009.

[34]  The documents in question were found on German suspects believed linked to al-Qa`ida. They provide a post-operational assessment from al-Qa`ida’s perspective of what happened in the July 7, 2005, and July 21, 2005, plots to attack London and the 2006 transatlantic airliners plot. They were first reported by Yassin Musharbash, “In ihren eigenen worten,” Die Zeit, March 15, 2012. Subsequent quotes attributed to Rauf are drawn from author read-outs, and the following news pieces: Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Document Shows Origins of 2006 Plot for Liquid Bombs on Planes,” CNN, April 30, 2012; Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Documents Give New Details on al Qaeda’s London Bombings,” CNN, April 30, 2012; Duncan Gardham, “7/7 bombers Planned Attack on Bank of England,” Telegraph, April 30, 2012; Duncan Gardham, “Al Qaeda Commander’s Guide to Beating MI5,” Telegraph, May 1, 2012. Heretofore, all these articles are referred to as the “Rauf documents.”

[35]  Rauf documents.

[36]  Ibid.

[37]  Ibid.

[38]  Ibid.

[39]  Ibid.

[40]  “7 July Bombings,” BBC, July 8, 2008.

[41]  Rauf documents.

[42]  Ibid. “Terror: How a String of Blunders Left Bombers Free to Cause Carnage,” Daily Mail, July 10, 2007; Secretary of State for the Home Department and AH, Royal Courts of Justice, May 9, 2008.

[43]  “Profile: Muktar Said Ibrahim,” BBC, July 11, 2007.

[44]  Rauf documents.

[45]  Ibid.

[46]  Ibid.

[47]  Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] “Explosive Emails,” Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2009.

[53] Duncan Gardham, “Teenager Sentenced to 18 Years after Being Groomed as Suicide Bomber in Trans-Atlantic Airlines Plot,” Telegraph, December 10, 2009.

[54] Greenberg et al.

[55]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AY, Royal Courts of Justice, July 26, 2010; Silber, p. 42.

[56]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AM, Royal Courts of Justice, July 6, 2012.

[57]  Ibid. Secretary of State for the Home Department and AM, Royal Courts of Justice, December 21, 2009.

[58]  Rauf documents.

[59] David Williams, “It’s All Lies, Protests Suspected Air Bomber,” Daily Mail, December 22, 2006.

[60] “UK Request Being Considered: FO: Extradition of Rashid Rauf,” Dawn, August 28, 2006.

[61]  CNN, December 13, 2006.

[62] “Release of Two Britons including Rashid Rauf Sought,” Daily Times, September 1, 2007.

[63]  Massoud Ansari and Miles Erwin, “London Airline Bomb Plot Suspect Escapes,” Daily Telegraph, December 16, 2007.

[64]  Sebastian Rotella and Josh Meyer, “A Young American’s Journey into Al Qaeda,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2009.

[65]  USA v. John Doe, Eastern District of New York, 2009.

[66] “Arrest of ‘Easter Bombers’ Led to International al Qaeda Network,” Daily Telegraph, May 18, 2010.

[67] Silber, p. 160.

[68]  “Den offentlege patalemakta mot Mikael Davud, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak Bujak, David Jakobsen,” Oslo City Court, January 30, 2012.

[69]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012.

[70]  Greenberg et al.