Boy, key suspect held in BB murder plot

January 20, 2008


DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Jan 19: A teenaged boy arrested on Friday told investigators he was the next in line to kill former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had the Dec 27 attempt failed, a security official told Dawn on Saturday.

“He appears to be part of the group that had planned the assassination, but not directly involved in it,” the official said in Peshawar.

The 18-year-old Aitzaz Shah, a native of Battal, in Mansehra district, used to live and study in Karachi. Aitzaz, according to the security official, also told the interrogators that he had been recruited by a cleric in Karachi and was sent to South Waziristan to train as a suicide bomber.

He said that he had trained in Makeen, South Waziristan, and knew about the group that had planned the assassination.

Aitzaz, who was arrested along with another man identified as Sher Zaman, was said to be cooperating with his interrogators.

The official said that the real catch was Sher Zaman, who was Aitzaz’s handler. “He is the real catch.”

A police official said that Aitzaz had even identified as Bilal the man who had executed the plot and then blew himself up. Bilal was a member of the Al-Badar outfit. He claimed that he was the back-up for Bilal whose facilitator was Akram. Police are looking for Akram.

Police said that the two suspects were arrested while driving into the city in a car. On search, the police also recovered explosives. Police said that the teenager had been assigned by his handlers to target a Shia procession in the city that has seen spiral of sectarian violence in the past.

“The boy seems to be implicating militant commander, Baituallah Mehsud in Benazir’s assassination,” the official said.

He said the boy and his handler would be subjected to further interrogation to find more clues about Benazir’s murder and other terrorist acts in the country. “So far, what he has said is very sketchy but we would know more as we speak to him again,” he said.

Police refused to confirm and contradict Aitzaz’s statement and Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Brig (retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema told an international wire service he had no information to share.

But a spokesman for Mr. Mehsud denied Aitzaz had any link with his group. “We have denied our involvement in Benazir’s assassination before and are strongly denying this again. We are not involved in Benazir’s murder,” Maulvi Omar told Dawn in Tank near Dera Ismail Khan.

“Yesterday, the American CIA had made a similar claim and now the police claim seems to be a continuation of the same conspiracy,” he said.—Ismail Khan contributed to this story from Peshawar and Alamgir Bittani from Tank.

Aitzaz allegedly said the attackers in the team that killed Ms Bhutto were called Bilal and Ikramullah -- the same names mentioned in an alleged telephone conversation between Mehsud and another militant the day after her death, adds AFP.

The tape was released by the interior ministry.

Aitzaz’s whereabouts at the time of the attack were not immediately clear.

One security official said he was in Rawalpindi while another said he was in Waziristan.

“The suspect was not in Rawalpindi at the time of attack on Ms Bhutto. The boy told interrogators that he was in South Waziristan,” a top police official quoted him as telling the interrogators.

One of the officials said Aitzaz was arrested during a security check when he arrived in Dera Ismail Khan by taxi from North Waziristan.

He allegedly told officials that he came to collect a suicide jacket for an attack at the US consulate in Karachi but the programme was changed because of tight security for Ashura.

Instead he was ordered to launch an attack during an Ashura procession on Sunday, the officials said.