A senior Pakistani intelligence official tells NBC News that Rashid Rauf, the main suspect in the London bomb plot, was taken to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border Thursday near Quetta and forced to point out al-Qaida training camps.
Pakistani authorities later took Rauf to Dalbandin, a small town near the Iranian border with Pakistan, to do the same thing, said the official, speaking under conditions of anonymity.
Separately, counterterrorism officials Thursday also confirmed to NBC News a BBC report that British investigators also discovered a suitcase, described as a “bomb kit,” in King's Wood in High Wycombe, where several of the alleged London plotters live.
A British official said the kit contained “everything you would need to make an improvised device.”
Meanwhile, more details are emerging about Rauf’s history in Pakistan and his connections with senior al-Qaida officials. Over the past several years, Rauf has made contact with several top officials of the terrorist group. Western intelligence officials are still trying to determine whether the plot was his idea and approved by al-Qaida, or the reverse.
According to these officials, Rashid Rauf has told his interrogators that he returned to Pakistan in early 2002 to take part in the jihad after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan led to the downfall of the Taliban.
Rauf’s first contact in al-Qaida was Amjad Hussein Farooqi, a Pakistani Islamic militant who was killed in a police raid in September 2004, officials told NBC News.
Amjad Farooqi at that time was the most senior militant in Pakistan, having a close working relationship with al-Qaida at various levels. Security officials say Farooqi was among the handful of the Pakistani militants whom al-Qaida maintained a regular contact with in the post 9/11 days. Among the plots he had been part of were two assassination attempts on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in December 2003.
Rauf has reportedly told intelligence officials that he went into Afghanistan with Farooqi in mid-2002 where he met some of the key al-Qaida leaders. It was then and there that he was “transformed” into a deadly militant who wanted to terrorize the world with something spectacular, they said.
Subsequently, Rauf became a regular visitor to Afghanistan, traveling to various parts of the country to meet al-Qaida figures. The officials say he met senior al-Qaida operatives but not Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri.
When Farooqi was killed in 2002, Rauf established a direct and regular contact with Abu Faraj al-Libi, the Libyan who was designated by the al-Qaida group as the man in charge of its international operations, the officials added.
And by the time al-Libi was captured in May 2005, Rashid Rauf was known to the first and second line of al-Qaida leaders who maintained some sort of contact with him.
Intelligence sources in Pakistan tell NBC News that Matiur Rehman replaced Amjad Farooqi as head of Lashkar e Jhangvi, the Sunni extremist group founded by Farooqi. But according to the officials, Rehman could not run its operations as effectively as his predecessor.
So Rauf left Lashkar and aligned himself with Jaish e Mohammad, another militant group under the control of Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar’s name is connected to the hijacking of an Indian airliner in December 1999. He was released from an Indian prison in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked jetliner. Azhar has been under house arrest for some time.
Intelligence sources in the U.S. and Pakistan tell NBC News that Maitur Rehman is a low-level militant operating in South Waziristan. He is wanted by the Pakistanis in numerous cases of sectarian violence, but contrary to recent media reports he is not the mastermind of the recent, thwarted London-based plot to blow up airplanes headed for the U.S. The same sources add that Rehman is not in Pakistani custody, as some media reports have claimed.
Is Rehman the mastermind being sought in Pakistan?
“No way,” said a senior counterterrorism official.
A Pakistani police document obtained by NBC News shows that there is a 10 million rupee reward being offered for the capture of Rehman, or about $170,000. The document lists Rehman as having been “involved in President case,” a reference to the attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It also calls him a “terrorist” who provided shelter to other Lashkar e Jhangvi members, but it makes no mention of al-Qaida.
British authorities have sought the extradition of Rashid Rauf to investigate his links with the U.K. terror plot, but Pakistani officials say it would be a while before they would hand him over. The reason, according to these officials, is that Rauf is still in the process of unfolding some new dimensions of foreign influence on local militant groups.
Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities continue to seek three other men in connection with the bomb plot: An Eritrean, an Afghan and a British national. None have been identified. Pakistani security forces are believed to have arrested a number of other militants but will neither confirm nor deny how many or their specific role in the plot.