“Musharraf had prior knowledge of Benazir's assassination but he withheld this piece of vital information.” — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Former president Pervez Musharraf knew that Tehrik-i-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was plotting the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but withheld the information from agencies concerned, according to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the murder.

Sources told DawnNews television channel on Wednesday that Khalid Qureshi, the JIT head, met officials of the interior ministry and briefed them about the challan submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency in Rawalpindi's anti-terrorism court (ATC) earlier this week.

The sources claimed the challan contained 12 charges against Gen Musharraf.

They said the JIT had questioned Brig (retired) Javed Iqbal Cheema, who headed the Interior Ministry's National Crisis Management cell at that time.

In a statement tagged with the challan, Brig (Cheema) told the JIT that it was Gen Musharraf who had ordered the premature press conference which he addressed on Dec 28, 2007 — the day after Ms Bhutto's assassination — without consulting the Punjab government.

The latter had set up the first Joint Investigation Team on Dec 31.

A number of FIA officials claimed that the statement by Brig (retired) Aijaz Shah, the then Intelligence Bureau chief, corroborated the statement made by Brig (retired) Cheema.

The JIT believes that Gen Musharraf's insistence on holding a press conference was aimed at “influencing” police investigations. In this entire exercise no official of the provincial government was taken into confidence.

According to the FIA, “Pervez Musharraf had prior knowledge of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto by accused Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP chief, but he (Musharraf) withheld this piece of vital information.”

The agency also informed the high-ups that efforts were being made to contact Gen Musharraf at his Islamabad address, but he was not available.

The sources claimed that the FIA, in its challan, had said: “Based on motive, circumstantial evidence and statements mentioned above, it is prima facie established that Musharraf is equally responsible with criminal mens rea for facilitation and abetment of assassinating Benazir Bhutto through his government's unjustified failure in providing her the requisite security protection her status deserved as twice prime minister.”

(Mens rea is a legal term which means “the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime”.)

The FIA also alleged that Gen Musharraf did not take any action against the police officers responsible for protecting Benazir Bhutto.

The sources said the FIA had informed the interior ministry that it had applied for non-bailable arrest warrants of Gen Musharraf to “compel him” to appear before Rawalpindi's anti-terrorism court.

According to the agency, the fact that the former president did not order any judicial inquiry into the murder lent strength to its suspicions.