No clue who killed Benazir as all five arrested in Benazir murder case acquitted

RAWALPINDI: The Anti-terrorism court on Thursday acquitted all the five accused arrested in Benazir Bhutto murder case, declared former military dictator Pervez Musharraf absconder and sentenced former Rawalpindi CPO Saud Aziz and former Rawal Town SP Khurram Shahzad for 17 years each in prison.

Both the police officials who were on bail were arrested from the courtroom.

In November 2008, the ATC had indicted Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Abdul Rasheed, Rafaqat Hussain and Hasnain Gul for killing, hatching criminal conspiracy to kill, abetting the perpetrators, using illegal explosive material and spreading terrorism on 27 Dec 2007 when 22 people, including former prime minister, were killed in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh, when she was leaving after attending an election rally.

After nine years of her assassination and hundreds of hearings, the prosecution failed to link those arrested and the main accused including former Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud who was killed in a drone strike several years ago.

As the defence and prosecution completed their arguments here on Wednesday, the ATC, Rawalpindi, Judge Muhammad Asghar Khan had reserved its verdict in Benazir Bhutto murder case, which was announced today.

The verdict in the case which has been going on for the past nine years is expected to be announced on Thursday (today) in this regard.

Benazir Bhutto, who was the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chief and a two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated in a suicide attack at an election campaign rally at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.

During Wednesday’s hearing, accused Aitzaz Shah’s counsel, Naseer Tanoli gave his arguments and said that investigation by the FIA is full of flaws, adding accused in the case were not even asked why they were arrested.

Giving arguments, the counsel said that Aitzaz Shah was declared a suicide attacker while the seminary administration was not interrogated from where he got training. Tanoli also said that Ismail, who was declared an operator in investigation and had taped Baitullah Mahsood’s call, had fled from the court.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar, in his arguments, said that attack was carried out from outside of the vehicle and not from inside, so why interrogated those who were in the vehicle. He also said there are flaws in the dates of arrest of the accused on part of police and not FIA.

An FIR was registered over the incident on behalf of the state, following which the murder trial of five suspects began in February 2008. But when the PPP won the general elections in 2008, the investigation was handed over to the FIA.

During Wednesday’s hearing, FIA Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar also said that PPP leader Babar Awan was in Bhutto’s backup vehicle, which was under the control of party leader Farhatullah Babar and added that when the investigation was handed over to the FIA, the vehicle was recovered from Zardari House in Islamabad.

He also said that former President Pervez Musharraf had excused himself from appearing before the court citing death threats against his life from al-Qaeda. “Of the 121 witnesses, only statements of 68 were recorded,” he informed the court further.

While suspects Husnain Gul and Rafaqat’s counsel Jawad Khalid told the court that the statements received from his clients hold Musharraf, among others, responsible for the crime. He also claimed that there is no solid proof against his clients and there is a conflict between investigating officers’ statements and the weapons recovered from the crime scene. “This raises suspicion,” he remarked, adding that the court should show mercy towards the innocent and highlighted that “the real culprits are not being punished for the crime.”

FIA Prosecutor Khawaja Asif has accepted that there is no record of the suspects in the DNA report. He also claimed that “Bhutto was targeted for deviating from US policy” and added that there were no explosives on the suicide jacket that the suspects had submitted for DNA testing. Moreover, the suspect’s DNA report has not been submitted to the court, he said.

On the other hand, the counsel for the other two suspects, former Rawalpindi CPO Saud Aziz and former Rawal Town SP Khurram Shahzad, said that nobody can stop a suicide attacker, but it can be investigated who facilitated the attacker.

Both Saud Aziz and Khurram Shahzad are on bail at the moment. The counsel pointed out that the statements of those injured in the attack have not yet been recorded, and the post-mortem of the bodies was not done.

The court was also informed that out of the three mobile SIMs which were seized, two were not registered in any citizen’s name while the third SIM’s ownership was not investigated.

Former President Pervez Musharraf is also a suspect in the case, who has remained an absconder since the beginning. A separate case was filed against his continuous absence, the trial for which is yet to begin.

Meanwhile after the hearing, talking to media persons FIA Prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar said that police had submitted four challans while three had been submitted by the FIA in BB murder case.

Chaudhry Azhar said according to anti-terrorist clause, it was responsibility of the investigation officer to cordon off the crime scene. He also said the FIR was registered at 8:20pm while the crime scene had been washed two hours before registering of the FIR.

He said there is sufficient evidence against the accused, adding Saud Aziz was a facilitator of the crime as he did not provide security to Benazir Bhutto at that time.

The prosecutor said there were 121 witnesses in the case, while the statements of only 68 people were recorded excluding the statement of driver Abdul Rehman.

The counsel for Saud Aziz Raja talking to media persons said that conducting postmortem of the BB was not the responsibility of former CPO, adding Zardari had not allowed him to carry out postmortem of the BB.

He said that prosecution had not told the court why the crime scene had been washed. Saud had told BB not to come out from the vehicle, he added.

FIA Prosecutor Khawaja Imtiaz, talking to media persons, said that former president Pervez Musharraf was excluded from the trial by the court as he was not present in the country. He told after recording the statements of 68 witnesses, forensic reports and four challans, neither prosecution nor the accused have the right to challenge it as the case has reached its logical end.

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