Ultra on death row for bid on Musharraf’s life escapes

Agence France Presse

Islamabad, January 11:

A Pakistani militant sentenced to death for his role in an Al Qaeda plot to kill President Pervez Musharraf has escaped from jail during a trip to the bathroom, officials confirmed today.

A nationwide manhunt is underway for Mushtaq Ahmad, who has been on the run for nearly seven weeks after vanishing from Pakistani Air Force custody near Rawalpindi, officials said.

The disappearance of 26-year-old Ahmad is likely to add to concern about the continuing threat to the safety of General Musharraf, who has angered many extremist groups by his support for the US war on terror.

“This criminal escaped from custody and we hope that we will arrest him. He was a key figure in the December 14, 2003 attack on President Musharraf,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP. The attack, in which the would-be assassins blew up a bridge in Rawalpindi as Musharraf’s motorcade passed, was the first of two failed Al Qaeda-linked attempts on the president’s life that month.

Ahmad, who is originally from Karachi, had been sentenced to death by a military court in Rawalpindi on November 21, security officials said. But early in the morning of November 25 he was allowed to go to the bathroom at the detention facility. He then disappeared, the sources said.

Ahmad was a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamic group and provided logistical support to those who carried out the bombing, security officials said. Musharraf has previously blamed the attack on a group of low-ranking army and air force officers who were led by Al Qaeda militants and Islamic clerics.

Musharraf is expected to launch a probe into whether Ahmad’s escape was an inside job, according to a report on Time magazine’s website on Sunday. Officials gave no reason for the delay in disclosing Ahmad’s escape and gave no further details of how he was able to break out. But security sources said that because of the tight secrecy surrounding the case, prison guards may not have been told they had a high-risk convict in their custody.

Security officials described Ahmad as a “dangerous criminal”. Pakistani authorities have circulated a number of photographs of the militant, who either goes clean-shaven or wears a moustache or a beard.