A Pakistani state prosecutor leading a federal investigation into the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was gunned down by suspected terrorists Friday as he drove away from his residence in the heart of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.
Chaudhry Zulfikar Ali, a special prosecutor for the Federal Investigation Agency, was hit in the head, chest and shoulder by 14 bullets fired by two men on a motorcycle; he died shortly after in the city’s main hospital.
Ali was ambushed as he left his home to prosecute the Bhutto assassination case in an anti-terrorism court in the adjacent city of Rawalpindi. A bodyguard assigned to protect the prosecutor was wounded in the attack, and a woman passerby died after being mowed down by Ali’s out-of-control car.
Ali and other federal officials investigating the Bhutto assassination had been assigned extra security after receiving threats from unspecified sources last year, federal officials said.
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Responsibility for the attack has yet to be claimed, making the motive unclear.
The prosecutor’s slaying came amid renewed investigations into the Bhutto killing, which remains unsolved.
Ali last week charged Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military strongman, with aiding and abetting Bhutto’s slaying. Musharraf is under house arrest in Islamabad after his return to Pakistan in March from self-imposed exile.
Musharraf was in power when Bhutto returned to Pakistan in November 2007 after a decade in exile spent mostly in the United Arab Emirates. Within hours of her arrival in Karachi, she narrowly survived a suicide bomb attack on her motorcade. She later wrote to her Washington lobbyist, Mark Seigel, saying Musharraf should be held responsible in the event of her death.
The Musharraf administration’s actions after Bhutto’s December 2007 assassination were certainly questionable. The scene of the crime, Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh park, was hosed down by fire brigade engines within hours of the attack, on the orders of police officials, destroying possible evidence. The following day, the government claimed Bhutto had died as a result of striking her neck against the sunroof of her vehicle after a bomb exploded, rather than being murdered.
That was later proven wrong by television footage, which showed she was shot in the head by an assassin who fired three bullets from a handgun, a couple of seconds before a remote-controlled bomb was detonated. The assassin was believed to be among the people killed in the explosion.
The Musharraf administration had blamed Bhutto’s assassination on Tehrik-i-Taliban, a Pakistan militant insurgent group. But the group’s leader at the time, Baitullah Mehsud, denied any involvement and even expressed sympathies for the Bhutto family.
In the absence of any telltale forensic evidence, later investigations by the United Nations and detectives from Britain’s Scotland Yard failed to solve the crime.
Imran Khan, a Pakistani sports star turned politician, on Wednesday claimed to have seen evidence that suggested Bhutto had not been killed by militants but “clearly . . . by people worried she was going to come into power” – a claim Pakistani analysts have interpreted as an accusation against Musharraf.
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