ATC acquits 5 suspects in Benazir Bhutto murder case


ISLAMABAD, Aug. 31 (TNS): An anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi on Thursday acquitted five accused in the 2007 murder case of two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, lawyers said.

Bhutto was assassinated in suicide bombing and firing in Rawalpindi minutes after she addressed a big public election rally on December 27, 2007.

The law enforcement agencies had arrested Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Hussnain Gul, Muhammad Rafaqat and Rasheed Ahmed in connection with the high profile case.

The court awarded 17-year jail term each to senior police officers Saud Aziz and Khurram Shehzad for negligence and removing evidences from the crime scene.  They were also accused of obstructing the postmortem of the body.

Both police officers were directly responsible for Benazir’s security, were also included in the list of suspects, for failing to provide appropriate security to the former prime minister.

Judge Asghar Khan of the court, who announced the verdict inside a prison, maintained its previous decision to declare former military ruler Pervez Musharraf as absconder in the case. The court also ordered confiscation of the property of Pervez Musharraf, according to the decision.

Musharraf was also among the list of accused, who is living in exile in Britain and the United Arab Emirates. Musharraf government was blamed for failure to provide security to Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan Peoples Party.

Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008 after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has denied all charges, terming them as politically-motivated and that he had warned Benazir Bhutto of imminent threats to her life.

Two suspects Ibadur Rahman and al Qaeda’s No 3 leader and financial and operational chief Mustafa Abu Yazid alias Sheikh Saeed Al-Masri are believed to have been killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

The anti-terrorism court heard the case for about 9 years. The trial of five suspects began in February 2008, concluded on Wednesday after the defense lawyers of the suspects completed their arguments.

Lawyers say a total of 68 witnesses of the list of 121 recorded statements.

The tragic assassination of Pakistan’s first woman Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto still remains a mystery as no group claimed responsibility. The gov’t had blamed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the killing and the authorities had played an alleged video of the TTP former leader Baitullah Mehsood, in which he congratulated other militant leader on Benazir’s murder.  

A UN mission had also conducted the probe of Bebazir Bhutto’s murder in 2009. Heraldo Munoz of Chile, the head of the UN commission that probed Benazir Bhutto’s murder concluded as follows: “Probably no government will be able or willing to fully disentangle the truth from the complex web of implication in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.