RAWALPINDI: An anti-terrorism court here on Saturday indicted seven accused, including former Rawalpindi CCPO Saud Aziz and former SP of Rawal Town, Khurram Shahzad, in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case.
The accused pleaded not guilty to involvement in the assassination of the former prime minister. Ms Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack on Dec 27, 2007.
Shahid Rafique, Special Judge of ATC-I, conducted the trial in Adiala Jail. He said in the indictment of Saud Aziz and Khurram Shahzad that it was their responsibility to provide security to Benazir Bhutto on Dec 27, 2007, but they showed negligence of duty and did not provide adequate security to her.
According to the charge-sheet, both the officers were involved in hosing down of the murder site, resulting in disappearance of material evidence, and they failed to ensure an autopsy was conducted on the body.
Malik Rafique, counsel for the police officers, told Dawn that the nature of indictment of his clients was different from the other accused who faced charges of conspiracy and abetment in the killing of Ms Bhutto. He said framing of charges did not mean the court had declared the accused guilty. The prosecution now has to substantiate the charges to convict the accused, he added.
The other accused indicted are Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Rasheed Ahmed, Rafaqat Hussain and Hasnain Gul for killing, hatching cons-piracy to kill Benazir Bhutto and abetting the perpetrators, using illegal explosive material on Dec 27, 2007 when 22 people, including Ms Bhutto, were killed and 65 others injured near Liaquat Bagh.
However, the accused refused to accept the charges levelled against them and said they would face the trial despite the fact that they had already confessed before a judicial magistrate for having the knowledge of the plot to kill Ms Bhutto and helping the suicide bomber.
The court while seeking the evidence of the prosecution summoned witnesses on the next date of hearing fixed for Nov 19.
Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, FIA Senior Public Prosecutor, told Dawn that the statements of prosecution witnesses would be recorded during the next hearing and the same day he would request the court for conducting the trial on a day-to-day basis.
If the court would accept our plea for speedy trial, the prosecution can conclude its proceedings in two months time, he added.
Reuters adds: “They have been charged with conspiracy as well as abetment in the murder,” Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a government prosecutor, told Reuters.
The charismatic Bhutto was killed on Dec 27, 2007 as she waved to a crowd through the sunroof of a sports utility vehicle following an election rally in Rawalpindi weeks after she returned to Pakistan from a self-imposed exile after striking a deal with then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
Gen Musharraf’s government had blamed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud for the killing. Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike near the Afghan border in 2009.
The five Taliban militants were charged with “criminal conspiracy” for bringing the suicide bomber from the tribal belt in the northwest to Rawalpindi where he carried out the attack, another prosecutor Mohammad Azhar said.
Gen Musharraf, who lives in exile in Dubai and London, also faces accusations of failing to provide adequate security to Ms Bhutto.
The anti-terrorism court in February issued an arrest warrant for him and later declared him fugitive of law after he failed to respond to these accusations.
In August, the court ordered the confiscation of all property and the freezing of Gen Musharraf’s bank accounts in Pakistan after he again failed to respond.
The prosecutor Ali said the court would deal with Gen Musharraf’s issue later.
A report by a UN commission of inquiry released last year said any credible investigation should not rule out the possibility that members of military and security establishment were involved in the killing, though it did not say who it believed was guilty.
It heavily criticised Pakistani authorities, saying they had “severely hampered” the investigation.
Gen Musharraf has denied suggestions that he or his security agencies had any role in Mr Bhutto’s murder.