UK in talks to have ‘air plot’ suspect extradited

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UK Foreign Office officials have opened discussions with the authorities in Pakistan about the potential extradition of a British suspect whose arrest is understood to have triggered last week’s raids in the UK aimed at disrupting the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic aircraft.

But no official request has been made for the extradition of Rashid Rauf and British officials indicated one was not likely soon

Pakistani officials are still questioning at least seven people arrested in the country on suspicion of connection with the alleged plot and possible links to al-Qaeda.

It is believed, though, that UK detectives have flown to Pakistan to liaise with the authorities there.

The Foreign Office in London has sent a diplomatic note to request confirmation of the nationalities of the people being held in Pakistan as a first step but had received no official reply on Wednesday.

If the suspects arrested had dual UK and Pakistani nationality, for example, that could pose problems for extradition attempts as the authorities there might wish to attempt prosecutions for alleged crimes in Pakistan. It is understood Mr Rauf was born in the portion of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control but migrated to the UK before his first birthday.

A senior Pakistani government official said the country was likely to look favourably upon an extradition request even though the two countries have yet to sign an extradition treaty, which is expected this year.

Mr Rauf, 25, is understood to have been in Pakistan since 2002. Tayib Rauf, his 21-year-old brother, was arrested in Birmingham in the English midlands in last week’s raids and has since had his assets frozen by the Bank of England.

Pakistan, often criticised for failing to tackle terrorists within its borders, has been keen to play up its role in thwarting the suspected plot.

One senior official in Islamabad said inquiries had still not conclusively proven if a terrorist attack was imminent or if some of the suspected terrorists were planning to carry out “a dry run” last week. “What is certain is that there was enough evidence carefully put together which confirmed what these people were planning to do. The case is comprehensive,” he said.

Pakistani security officials say a senior al-Qaeda figure was behind the plot. They are investigating whether a member of the group’s hierarchy was in contact with the arrested suspects. “The mastermind of this operation had to be from al-Qaeda,” said the Islamabad official.

In London, police were expected to seek court approval to detain arrested suspects for further questioning. They are holding 24 people in custody. Police can hold terrorism suspects for up to 28 days without charge. They are likely to seek to maximise the time for questioning as painstaking searches of more than 20 addresses were continuing on Wednesday.

Police refused to confirm reports that chemicals had been found in woodland in High Wycombe, west of London, although John Reid, home secretary, said police seemed to have found material of a “substantial nature” during their inquiries.

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