Is Alleged U.K Jihadist Rashid Rauf Alive or Dead?

It's a mystery what the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism squad was thinking when he walked into the U.K. prime minister's office at 10 Downing Street carrying in plain view a "secret" report about Al Qaeda's attack planning. News photos of Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick's careless move compromised a police crackdown, forcing U.K. officials to swoop in and arrest 12 suspects—all but one of them Pakistani nationals—in connection with an alleged Easter holiday plot to attack shopping centers and a nightclub in northern England. Quick resigned the next day. Another mystery remains unsolved: whether Rashid Rauf, a "high value" Qaeda target during the Bush administration and one of the Easter plot's alleged masterminds, is alive or dead. U.S. officials believe that Rauf was killed just before last Thanksgiving by a CIA-operated Predator drone strike in Pakistan's lawless North Waziristan. But according to one U.K. expert who's been briefed on the case, some British investigators— and Rauf's own family—think he may have survived. (A U.K. spokesperson had no comment on the matter.)

Rauf, a former British resident, was allegedly a central figure in an August 2006 plot by U.K.-based terrorists to blow up transatlantic airliners. The plot was broken up after authorities in Pakistan arrested Rauf. But in December 2007, he escaped from custody as he was being transferred back to prison from a court hearing in Islamabad. (He allegedly fled via a bathroom window after his guards allowed him to stop for a prayer break; U.S. officials suspected an "inside job.") The White House was delighted when the Predator operation supposedly took him out. But soon after the missile strike, which U.S. officials said killed five men, including Rauf, his Pakistani lawyer claimed he was still alive and dared authorities to produce the body—which they were apparently unable to do.

Three current and former U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive matter, told NEWSWEEK that U.S. agencies still believe Rauf was killed in the strike. "While it is not 100 percent confirmed," said one of the officials, "there are good reasons to believe Rashid Rauf is dead." In most Predator operations, officials in Washington have overhead video feeds that enable them to follow targets prior to a missile firing and to see bodies following the attack. But sometimes, another of the officials said, the evidence is more ambiguous. "If he is alive," the official added, "we should regard this guy as a serious threat to U.S. interests." And even if he's dead, U.S. and U.K. officials said it's possible the Easter plot was hatched prior to November 2008—meaning that Rauf's reach may extend beyond the grave.