British probe charity's possible link to bomb plot

August 25, 2006|By John Crewdson | John Crewdson,Chicago Tribune

LONDON -- Authorities have begun investigating whether money raised to help victims of the October 2005 earthquake that devastated northern Pakistan ended up in the hands of those accused of plotting to bomb trans-Atlantic jetliners headed for the United States.

Bank accounts belonging to a British-based charity, Crescent Relief, were frozen yesterday by Britain's Charity Commission, which opened a formal inquiry into what happened to the money collected to aid the families of the estimated 79,000 Pakistanis killed in the quake.

Crescent Relief was founded six years ago by the father of a man who police say was a key figure in the alleged plot.

A senior commission official, Kenneth Dibble said charity investigators are working with law enforcement agencies that he did not identify.

Commission spokesman Christopher Kiggell said that "there should be no suggestion that we've made our minds up" about whether the charity's funds were used unlawfully.

According to the Crescent Relief Web site, its purpose is "to bring relief to the people in the parts of the world where they are suffering from extreme poverty, conflict, calamities and epidemic."

The most recent figures filed with the Charity Commission indicate that at the end of 2004, about 10 months before the earthquake, Crescent Relief had about $22,000 in its bank accounts, the sum left unspent from that year's income of about $168,000.

The founder of Crescent Relief, Abdul Rauf, who emigrated from Pakistan to London, is the father of British-born Rashid Rauf, 25, who is under arrest in Pakistan and is accused of complicity in the alleged London plot.

Another of Rauf's sons, Tayib Rauf, 22, was ordered released from jail in Birmingham, England, on Wednesday after prosecutors were unable to persuade a judge to hold him for further questioning without charges.

The address on Crescent Relief's Web site is in Essex, 30 miles east of London. Its registered Internet address is in the East London neighborhood Walthamstow, where at least a half-dozen of the bomb-plot suspects lived before they were arrested two weeks ago.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Walthamstow address declined to give her name, saying only, "I'm the daughter-in-law." She said Abdul Rauf had gone to Pakistan last month to attend a family wedding and had not returned.

She also said Abdul Rauf, 54, had not spoken to Rashid Rauf "in over four years" because of a "family disagreement."

The Birmingham Post reported this week that Abdul Rauf, who resigned as a Crescent Relief director in 2002, was detained recently for questioning by Pakistani authorities while he was boarding a flight back to England.

Crescent Relief had an office in the London suburb of High Wycombe, home to five of those arrested in the alleged bombing plot, some of whom had been assisting with the earthquake relief effort. Among other things, Crescent Relief said, it sent hundreds of tents to Pakistan to shelter those left homeless by the quake.

An article published Oct. 28 in the Bucks Free Press, which serves High Wycombe, advised readers wishing "to donate to the Crescent Relief London" to "contact Khuram Ali on 07817 652476."

The number, a cell phone, has been disconnected. One of the men arrested has been identified by the Bank of England, which has frozen his personal accounts, as Shazad Khuram Ali, a 27-year-old High Wycombe resident who ran a car-exporting business there.

The Rauf family operates a bakery and confectionery business in Birmingham, an industrial city in the English Midlands. Pakistani officials say that Rashid Rauf, who moved from England to Pakistan after the unsolved killing of an uncle in Birmingham, has links to al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

John Crewdson writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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