Pakistani officials are optimistic they will recapture a Birmingham man suspected of an alleged plot to blow up jets, saying they have arrested five people - including two police officers - on suspicion that they helped him escape.
Rashid Rauf, of Ward End, was arrested in Pakistan in August 2006 before the plot was foiled. Britain has sought his extradition, both as a suspect in the 2002 killing of his uncle there, and to question him as a "key person" in the airline plot. He has denied involvement in both cases.
He was presented before a judge in the capital, Islamabad, on Saturday in connection with the extradition proceedings but, on his way back to jail, he tricked police into stopping to let him pray at a mosque, then slipped out the back door.
Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz called Rauf's escape "unfortunate" and a serious security lapse.
"We have one or two very good leads which we are working on, and the people who were closely involved in his escape have also been apprehended," he said, adding taht Rauf's possible escape routes have been blocked but he had a "good eight-nine hour start that has given him some advantage."
Mr Nawaz said the five people who were arrested include two police officers and one of Rauf's uncles. He said he did not know if al Qaida was behind the escape, pending completion of an investigation.
"Until then, it is all guesswork," he said.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media, earlier said the two police officers were being investigated for negligence and possible links with Rauf's two uncles.
The escape is an embarrassment for the government of President Pervez Musharraf, who made Pakistan a key ally of the United States in its war on terror following the September 11, 2001, attacks in America.
Rauf's lawyer, Hashmat Habib, has called the escape a "mysterious disappearance", saying he never opposed deportation. Mr Habib said police commandos had escorted Rauf on earlier trips to court.
"How can it happen that only two policemen were travelling with him on Saturday?" he asked.
One of Pakistan's leading newspapers, The News, reported today that Rauf's uncle Rafique had been in touch with one of the arrested policemen. Rafique was arrested in Pakistan's part of disputed Kashmir this week.
It also said the officers let another uncle of Rauf's, Zahoor, talk them into letting him drive Rauf back to the jail in his own car. The officers had lunch with Rauf at a McDonald's restaurant in Rawalpindi, then unlocked his handcuffs when he went inside the mosque, the report said.
The newspaper also reported that the guards did not immediately inform their bosses about the incident, and that they searched for Rauf for hours before reporting the matter.