The Times August 19, 2006

Quake aid 'is linked to terror suspects'
By Dominic Kennedy, Chiade O’Shea and Hannah Devlin

THE Pakistan earthquake appeal has emerged as a potential link between some of the terror suspects arrested over the alleged plot to destroy transatlantic aircraft using liquid bombs, The Times has learnt.

A charity founded to help orphans and disaster victims provides a connection between some individuals being questioned by police on suspicion of plotting “unimaginable mass murder”.

Crescent Relief London was created by Abdul Rauf, from Birmingham. Two of his sons were arrested as part of the bombing inquiry and are among the 23 suspects still being held by police after the alleged attempt to bomb planes flying between London and the United States.

The Charity Commission is looking at reports of links between several British charities and the alleged bomb plot. The public gave £30 million for earthquake relief, much of it raised in mosques and donated to locally based charities.

The discovery came as the BBC reported last night that, according to sources, martyrdom videos had been discovered on at least six laptops during searches by police investigating the alleged plot.

The Government yesterday ruled out any early return to normal airport security measures despite an ultimatum from Ryanair, which said that it would sue it for compensation for delays unless usual security arrangements resumed within seven days.

The Department for Transport said it had “no intention of compromising security”, nor did it expect to change requirements in the next week. Under the new requirements, half of all passengers must be body searched and the maximum size of hand luggage has been reduced, with a ban on liquids, creams or gels.

A pilot made an emergency landing escorted by a fighter jet in Brindisi, Italy, yesterday after passengers discovered a bomb threat scrawled on a sick bag. The Excel Airways flight had left Gatwick bound for Hurghada, Egypt, at 10.45am, carrying 269 passengers. The note stated: “There’s a bomb on this aircraft.” The Boeing 767 plane was evacuated but nothing was found after a search.

The charity Crescent Relief was operating in High Wycombe when all five suspects from the Buckinghamshire town were enthusiastically helping with the earthquake relief effort, The Times has established.

A thousand tents were sent by High Wycombe to Pakistan through Crescent Relief London. An article in the Bucks Free Press said readers wishing to donate to that organisation should contact Khuram Ali and gave a mobile phone number. Mr Ali is one of the five High Wycombe suspects being held by police.

The mobile number is now obsolete but it was previously used to advertise a salvaged Mercedes from High Wycombe on the eBay auction website. Mr Ali is a self-employed car dealer.

Mr Rauf was reported yesterday to have been detained in Pakistan where officials described his son Rashid as a “key person” in the alleged conspiracy. Abdul Rauf, 52, a baker from Birmingham, was detained before boarding an international flight at Islamabad. He was questioned but has not been charged and will be freed to fly home.

Scotland Yard are questioning 23 British Muslims from three distinct areas: Walthamstow, East London; High Wycombe; and Birmingham. Until now, no obvious connection linked those arrested except that they were all devout, young and most were men of Pakistani origin.

Crescent Relief London, based in East London, may fill a gap, creating a possible association between suspects from Birmingham and High Wycombe. The charity, which raises £89,000 a year, was founded by Abdul Rauf in 2000. He left the board of trustees in 2001.

Rashid Rauf, 25, has been arrested in Pakistan in connection with the alleged terror plot. The British High Commission in Islamabad has discovered that he is a dual UKPakistan national, which may complicate attempts to extradite him to Britain. Another son Tayib, 22, was seized from the family home in Ward End, Birmingham.

Crescent Relief London was active in High Wycombe when the earthquake devastated Pakistan last October, killing at least 70,000. Most of the town’s Muslims originate from the crisis zone of Kashmir and the suspects joined vigorous local efforts to raise funds.

A Muslim volunteer from High Wycombe who helped Crescent Relief London said: “Khuram Ali had sleepless nights when the earthquake happened. He was working so hard to help load up the tents before they went to the airport.

“All these brothers are very good brothers. When the earthquake happened they all did charity work but it’s not for me to say which charity they were working for . . . All these guys who have been arrested, I think it’s a matter of time before they are exonerated.”

Some men travelled from High Wycombe to Pakistan as helpers but the volunteer declined to say whether any of the five went.

The Charity Commission began looking at Crescent Relief London after newspaper reports linked it to the Raufs.

A former director, Mohammed Najib Ansari, has said that £100,000 was sent to Pakistan for earthquake relief and he doubted that the money had been diverted. Ghazanfer Ali, a current director, told The Times that Mr Rauf was “no longer with” the charity.

He welcomed the Charity Commission’s inquiry and urged it to check rigorously that the money had indeed been spent to relieve poverty.