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Benazir assassination probe being widened

PAKISTAN POLITICS MUSHARRAFISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI: The investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is likely to be expanded to unveil some faces, who have so far been out of picture, after two arrested former police officers have told investigators that some intelligence officials were in contact with them on Dec 27, 2007.

In a related development, the interior ministry has sent a questionnaire to former president Pervez Musharraf currently living in London to record his statement.

The Federal Investigation Agency obtained on Thursday six days’ physical custody of former chief of Rawalpindi city police Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shahzad to recover the cellphones they were using on the day the former prime minister was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh.

The agency had sought a 12-day remand, but the special judge of Anti-Terrorism Court-III granted six days.

The two former police officers were taken into custody on Wednesday after a trial court hearing the case cancelled their pre-arrest bail.

Special Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali told reporters after the court proceedings that arrested officers had informed the investigators that four officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence had been in contact with them.

But he said that their names could not be disclosed now because it was yet to be ascertained in what context they were in contact with the accused.

If concrete evidence was found against the intelligence officers they would be included in the investigation.

The FIA investigators said in the court that forensic tests of the cellphones were needed to ascertain who had been in contact with the two police officers on the day of Benazir’s assassination.

Advocate Zulfiqar said that phone data would help the investigators to know if other elements were also involved in the murder.

He said the police officers had given divergent statements about the cellphones and the numbers used by them three years ago. First they said they had lost the phones and later claimed that these had broken up.

Advocate Malik Muhammad Rafique, the counsel for Saud Aziz, said the cellphone data could be collected from the mobile companies concerned, and not from the police officers. It was surprising, he said, that the investigators had sought the data three years after the incident.

The two police officers were brought to the court without handcuffs in a van with windows covered with newspapers.

QUESTIONNAIRE: “We have sent the questionnaire to Gen Musharraf and are waiting for his reply,” said Advocate Zulfiqar, who is representing FIA’s joint investigation team.

However, political observers are of the opinion that it would not by easy to include the former president in the investigation because of his background.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had a few months ago formed a three-member committee, headed by Cabinet Secretary Chaudhry Abdul Rauf, which excluded from inquiry some top military officials who allegedly ordered the hosing down of the assassination site. The inquiry report, however, has not been made public.

The UN commission on Benazir’s assassination had accused MI’s former director general Maj-Gen Nadeem Ijaz and some top police officials of being behind the hosing down of the site.

The joint investigation team has prepared the 32-point questionnaire for the former president.

Interior ministry sources said the document contained questions relating to security lapse and asked the former president why he did not provide adequate security to Ms Bhutto although she had expressed fears about threats to her life.

Gen (retd) Musharraf’s spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said the former president had nothing to do with the security of Ms Bhutto.

He termed the government’s move to send the questionnaire to Gen Musharraf an attempt to politicise the case and damage him politically.

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