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Al-Qaeda leader denies killing Bhutto

The Pak Govt on Friday blamed Baitullah Mehsud for assassinating former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

world Updated: Dec 29, 2007 17:26 IST

Alleged Al-Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud denied any involvement in Benazir Bhutto's death after the Pakistan government blamed him for the killing, his spokesman told AFP on Saturday.

"He had no involvement in this attack," spokesman Maulana Omar said in a telephone call. "This is a conspiracy of the government, army and intelligence agencies."

The spokesman said he was calling from Pakistan's Waziristan area, a lawless tribal region where Pakistani government forces have been battling Islamist militants. "It is against tribal tradition and custom to attack a woman," Omar said.

He said the transcript released by the government, allegedly of a phone call between Mehsud and a militant discussing Bhutto's death after the fact, was a "drama" and expressed sadness over her assassination on Thursday.

He said it would have been "impossible" for militants to get through the security cordon around the campaign rally where she was killed.

"Benazir was not only a leader of Pakistan but also a leader of international fame. We express our deep grief and shock over her death," Omar said.

Bhutto died shortly after a suicide attack on Thursday targetting her vehicle at a campaign rally in the northern city of Rawalpindi.

Early reports said she had been shot before a bomb exploded nearby. But the interior ministry said late Friday she had no gunshot or shrapnel wounds and had died after smashing her head on her car's sunroof as she tried to duck.

Interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema blamed Al-Qaeda for the attack, pointing to the transcript of a telephone call.
He said intelligence services had intercepted the call from Mehsud, considered the extremist group's top leader for Pakistan, congratulating a militant for Bhutto's death.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has rejected the government's findings as a "pack of lies," and said two party officials were inside Bhutto's vehicle during the attack and saw what happened.

"Two bullets hit her, one in the abdomen and one in the head," Farooq Naik, Bhutto's lawyer and a senior PPP official, told AFP. "It is an irreparable loss and they are turning it into a joke with such claims," he said, warning that the country could be heading towards civil war.

Bhutto was an outspoken critic of Al-Qaeda-linked militants blamed for scores of bombings in Pakistan and had received death threats.

She had also accused elements from Pakistan's intelligence services of involvement in a suicide attack on her homecoming rally in October that left 139 dead and which she only narrowly escaped.

Mehsud said in the intercepted call that he was behind the suicide bombing at the homecoming rally, according to Cheema.
A White House spokesman said on Friday that US intelligence was still trying to determine whether or not Al-Qaeda operatives were involved in the assassination.