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Bhutto murder suspects indicted next week: Prosecutor

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court will indict five suspected militants next week for their involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, a prosecutor said today.

world Updated: Nov 15, 2010 19:45 IST

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court will indict five suspected militants next week for their involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, a prosecutor said on Monday.

"The challan of the case (list of charges) was presented today in Anti-Terrorism Court-III in Rawalpindi," Chaudhry Zulfiqar, a special prosecutor representing the Federal Investigation Agency, told AFP.

"The accused will be indicted at the next hearing on November 23," he said, adding that the trial would be held inside the main prison in Rawalpindi.

The five men were all arrested in the weeks following Bhutto's slaying in a gun-and-suicide attack at a political rally in Rawalpindi, a garrison city adjoining the capital Islamabad, on December 27, 2007.

The prosecutor said five other suspects had been at large, of whom three had been killed, including Taliban and Al-Qaeda commander Baitullah Mehsud.

Mehsud, who had denied any involvement in Bhutto's assassination, was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009 in the lawless South Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan.

Suspects Aitzaz Shah, Hasnain Gul, Abdul Rashid, Sher Zaman and Rafaqat Hussain were arrested and now face charges of "criminal conspiracy" for bringing the suicide bomber from a tribal area and keeping him at a house in Rawalpindi, Zulfiqar said.

"They (the suspects) were the suicide bomber's handlers and did it at the behest of Baitullah Mehsud. They provided the suicide jacket to Saeed alias Bilal and brought him to Liaqat Bagh, where Ms Benazir Bhutto was to address a rally."

Zulfiqar also said that the suspects had reconnoitred the Liaqat Bagh area before the attack.

He said that the statements of 124 prosecution witnesses had been presented to the court and provided to the accused.

Police arrested Shah and Zaman in the troubled northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan in January 2008 and the other three in Rawalpindi the following month.

Gul and Rafaqat confessed in February 2008 to helping and sheltering the suicide attacker, to avenge the army's storming of a radical mosque in Islamabad that killed more than 100 people in July 2007.

A three-member UN inquiry panel tasked with investigating Bhutto's assassination reported in April that it believed the Pakistani police's failure to probe the slaying effectively "was deliberate".

The UN report also said that the government of then military ruler Pervez Musharraf had failed to provide Bhutto with adequate protection.

The UN panel said its investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other officials who had impeded "an unfettered search for the truth".

Bhutto, who served two terms as prime minister, returned from exile two months before she was assassinated, to stand for elections.

Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, led her Pakistan People's Party to election victory in February 2008 and is now the head of state.