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Benazir murder: Musharraf declared absconder, five let off

An anti-terrorism court here on Thursday declared former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf an absconder in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Five others accused in the case were acquitted while two police officers were jailed for 17 years each.

Judge Asghar Khan announced the verdict at Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail, a decade after a gun-and-bomb attack killed the charismatic Bhutto soon after her arrival in Pakistan to take part in elections. The judge ordered confiscation of Musharraf properties.

Perpetual arrest warrants were issued for the former military dictator, Dawn online reported.

Musharraf, who ousted then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999, now lives in exile in Dubai. His administration was blamed for failing to provide security to Bhutto, who was the Pakistan Peoples Party chief and a two-time Prime Minister.

The five accused — Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul, Sher Zaman, Aitzaz Shah and Abdul Rashid — were cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence against them, said the court.

Two police officials — former Rawalpindi Central Police Office Saud Aziz and former Rawalpindi Town Superintendent Khurram Shahzad — were jailed for 17 years each for negligence vis-a-vis Bhutto’s security.

They were arrested from the courtroom and were fined Rs 500,000 each.

The trial of the five began in February 2008. They were suspected of having links with Taliban militants.

In November 2008, a court indicted them for killing, hatching criminal conspiracy, abetting the perpetrators, using illegal explosive material and spreading terror on December 27, 2007 when Bhutto and 21 people were killed outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh when she was leaving after an election rally.

Two other suspects, Ibadur Rahman and Al Qaeda’s No. 3 and financial and operational chief Mustafa Abu Yazid alias Sheikh Saeed Al-Masri, were believed to have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan, a media report said.

During the legal proceedings, seven challans were presented and eight judges and three courts were changed. At least 68 witnesses appeared on behalf of the prosecution.

The Pakistan government had blamed the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for Bhutto’s killing. The authorities had played an alleged video of then TTP leader Baitullah Mehsood congratulating other militants on Bhutto’s murder.

A UN mission had conducted the probe into Bhutto’s murder.

Heraldo Munoz of Chile, the head of the UN commission, concluded: “Probably no government will be able or willing to fully disentangle the truth from the complex web of implication in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.”

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