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The Strange Death of Britain's Most Wanted Terrorist

Rashid Rauf, the suspected ringleader for the 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, has been killed by a U.S. drone in Waziristan, Pakistan.

The news comes as a surprise. What is not surprising is that the 27-year-old British terrorist of Pakistani descent was hiding in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. Or that he was killed by a Predator drone carrying hellfire missiles launched from a U.S. base in Afghanistan and guided by technicians in Nevada. (There have been 24 such drone attacks aimed at terrorists in the region since August 31.)

What’s surprising is that it was the Americans who got him.

Before his death last week, Rashid Rauf was considered one of England’s most wanted terrorists. The plot he helped mastermind — under the direction of al-Qaeda — aimed to blow up multiple U.S.-bound aircraft with liquid explosives after the planes left London.

Since then, Rauf has been aggressively sought by Scotland Yard, first through extradition proceedings and later through British intelligence after he “escaped” from Pakistani custody last December. But U.S. intelligence remained relatively quiet about him. Rashid Rauf never appeared on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists.

His death raises questions about information sharing and military alliances in the war on terror. Although Rauf is a British citizen, it appears England was not included, or even aware, of the American operation to kill him.

“A secret meeting on board an American aircraft carrier between the U.S. General David Petraeus and the head of the Pakistani military laid the foundation for the killing of Britain’s most wanted terrorist,” reports the Independent. The Guardian says, “Whitehall [was] kept in dark over strike.” And the Times Online reports that “MPs seek answers as CIA kills British terror suspect Rashid Rauf.”

With the international news of Rashid Rauf’s death comes another question: just how big of a player was Rauf after all? American officials have yet to officially comment, but the Telegraph reports they’ve been told by anonymous U.S. sources that Rauf was linked to al-Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Rauf is also linked by marriage to Jaish-e-Mohammad, or The Army of Mohammed. Its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar (Rauf’s brother-in-law), orchestrates terror attacks in Indian Kashmir. When Azhar was sprung from an Indian prison in 2000, alongside Daniel Pearl’s future killer Omar Sheik, Osama Bin Laden threw him a party.

It is this growing and dangerous alliance that Bruce Riedel, a counterterrorism adviser to President-elect Barack Obama points out. “Rauf epitomizes the Pakistan-UK connection that Al-Qaeda is trying to exploit to attack Britain and the United States,” Riedel said. “He also has ties to Kashmiri terror groups closely aligned with al-Qaeda.”

In the tangled web of terrorist alliances and allegiances, one thing becomes clear: for the United States, certain terrorists are wanted dead — not alive.

Who the U.S. shares its information with apparently comes second to that end.