A British suspect in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners escaped from police custody in Pakistan on Saturday, officials said.

Rashid Rauf fled after appearing before a judge at a court in the capital, Islamabad, said Khalid Pervez, a city police official.

Police teams were driving around the area in search of Rauf, who Pervez said had managed to open his handcuffs and evade two police guards who were taking him back to jail in the nearby city of Rawalpindi.

"We do not know how he escaped. But we do know he has escaped and the two policemen have been taken into custody for negligence," Pervez told The Associated Press.

Federal Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said he had been informed of Rauf's disappearance, but had no details.

Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, was arrested here in August 2006 on a tip from British investigators. He has been described as a key suspect in a purported plot to blow up jetliners flying from Britain to the United States, which prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carry-on items.

Rauf was arrested and charged in Pakistan with possessing chemicals that could be used in making explosives and with carrying forged travel documents.

The prosecution later withdrew the case against him, though he remained in jail awaiting a decision on the British extradition request.

Britain had asked Pakistan to hand him over in connection with a 2002 murder inquiry in Britain that is separate from the alleged terrorism plot. But Rauf's lawyer, Hashmat Habib, has sought to block the move, saying the two countries do not have an extradition treaty and that Rauf had already been found innocent of involvement in terrorism.

Members of Rauf's family have appealed to Pakistani authorities to release him, saying he is innocent and desperate to remain with his wife and two daughters.

Habib said Saturday that his client had been brought to court in connection with the extradition proceedings, but he didn't know how Rauf had escaped.

Rauf's father, reached in Birmingham, 200 miles north of London, said he did not know about his son's escape.

"I don't know anything — I'm shocked," Abdul Rauf told The Associated Press by telephone.