Rawalpindi (August 31, 2017): An anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Thursday acquitted five suspected Taliban members accused of conspiring, handling and facilitating the attackers in murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The Anti-Terrorism Court Judge Asghar Khan, who had reserved verdict yesterday after hearing FIA prosecutors and defense counsels’ final arguments, pronounced his verdict today.
Click Play Button to Watch this Video
Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Abdul Rasheed, Rafaqat Hussain and Hasnain Gul, who were indicted by the ATC in November 2008, were cleared of all charges.
The five accused had been charged for killing, hatching criminal conspiracy to kill, abetting the perpetrators, using illegal explosive material and spreading terrorism on Dec 27, 2007 when 22 people, including the former premier, were killed in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh, when she was leaving after holding an election rally.
Saud Aziz, who was the police chief in Rawalpindi at the time of Bhutto’s assassination, and former Rawal Town SP Khurram Shahzad, were sentenced to 17 years each and ordered to pay a fine of Rs0.5 million each.
Court has directed authorities to seize Musharraf’s properties. Apart from Musharraf, five other men — Baitullah Mehsud, Ahmad Gul, Iqramullah, Abdullah, and Faizullah — have been declared absconders.Perpetual arrest warrants have been issued for Musharraf.
A short order containing three paragraphs was issued by the judge, while detailed judgment will be issued later.
The two police officers convicted by the court were on bail.
The former prime minister was assassinated in a suicide attack at an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on December 27, 2007.
An FIR over the incident was registered on behalf of the state following which the murder trial of five suspects began in February of 2008. After coming into power in 2008, the PPP handed over investigation of the case to FIA.During the hearing on Wednesday, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor, Chaudhry Azhar, said that former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf ─ declared “most wanted” in the case ─ could not appear before the court because he is under threat by the Al Qaeda.
Naseer Tanoli, the lawyer of Aitzaz Shah who is accused of helping and financing the attack, told the court that the FIA’s investigation into the case is full of defects.Tanoli observed that the FIA had not asked any of the suspects about when they were arrested.
The FIA prosecutor argued that if there were discrepancies regarding the dates of the arrests of the suspects, the fault lies with the police, not the FIA.He added that a person named Ismail, who was mentioned as an “operator” in the challan at the time of the assassination, had absconded from the court.
“The attack was carried out from outside the car. Why would we investigate those who were inside the car?” the prosecutor asked.Police told the ATC that Ismail had tapped a phone call from Baitullah Mehsood ─ the former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan chief who was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009 ─ who was declared “most wanted” in the murder case, along with Emad Gul, Akramullah, Abdullah and Faizullah.
During the case 68 witnesses appeared on behalf of the prosecution and recorded their testimonies. The police presented three challans before the court, wheras the FIA presented five.
In 2013, FIA’s special prosecutor in the case was killed by unknown assailants. Doctors said he had been killed with 10 bullets targeting his chest and shoulder.Saud Aziz, who was police chief of Rawalpindi when Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, and Khurram Shahzad, a former Superintendent of Police (SP) at Rawal Town, were released on bail in 2011.
The two were accused of negligence in security arrangements which subsequently led to the assassination of the former prime minister in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on Dec 27, 2007 when Musharraf was president.