Benazir murder: Key Taliban terrorist resurfaces, denies involvement

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Islamabad, June 26 (IANS) Ikramullah, one of Pakistan’s most wanted terrorists affiliated to the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and allegedly part of a cell that assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has denied his involvement in the killing in a video released by the group, the media reported on Tuesday.

Bhutto, the Pakistan Peoples Party chief and a two-time Premier, was killed along with 21 people in a gun-and-bomb attack outside Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh during an election rally on December 27, 2007.

Ikramullah appeared in the video filmed by militants in eastern Afghanistan. The commander of the Taliban splinter group, Shaheryar, claimed in the video that the Pakistani Taliban were not involved in the attack and blamed it on the country’s then ruler Pervez Musharraf, the BBC reported.

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Ikramullah is believed to have been a “back-up suicide bomber”, who was meant to detonate his explosive vest if the first attacker did not succeed. But officials say he walked away after the other bomber blew himself up, killing Bhutto and others at the rally.

Musharraf was declared a proclaimed offender after being charged with “abetment and conspiracy to murder” in relation to Bhutto’s death, but has not appeared in court.

He is currently in self-imposed exile in Dubai and has denied any involvement in the death or having deliberately not provided her with adequate security.

Described as a “senior figure” in his group, Ikramullah repeatedly stated in the video that he was neither “involved” nor “aware of” the plot to kill Bhutto.

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Senator Rehman Malik, a former Interior Minister and a close friend of Bhutto, told the BBC that he believed Ikramullah was “totally lying”, and that other suspects had named him in court as the “second bomber”.

Malik added that Ikramullah was “the only living person” with inside information in the Bhutto case. He said that Ikramullah’s denial could be motivated by fear that he might eventually be detained in Afghanistan and handed over to Pakistan.

The BBC quoted a source with knowledge of Pakistani militant groups as saying that until recently Ikramullah was openly and proudly claiming his involvement.

But last year he was attacked by other rival Islamists in Afghanistan and his family received threats from the Pakistani security services. As a result, it is believed, he was advised by his group’s leaders to make a video denying his involvement, the report said.

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Five alleged militants charged with involvement in the plot were last year acquitted, but remain in detention pending an appeal.

The leader of the Pakistani Taliban at the time, Baitullah Mehsud — who died in a US strike in 2009 — denied that the group was responsible.

Earlier this year, a book published by the Pakistani Taliban’s main faction on the history of the group acknowledged that despite earlier denials they had indeed carried out the attack, and had named Ikramullah as the second suicide bomber.

–IANS

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