January 19, 2008 / 7:28 PM / 12 years ago

Pakistan authorities arrest two over Bhutto plot

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Pakistani security agents have arrested a youth who said he had been trained as a suicide bomber to kill opposition leader Benazir Bhutto had other militants failed to kill her, in the first arrests in the case, a security official said.

The 15-year-old and his militant "handler" were arrested in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan on Thursday night.

The teenager, identified as Aitezaz Shah, told interrogators he would have been "next in line" to kill Bhutto if another team had failed on Dec. 27, the security official said on Saturday.

Former prime minister Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Dec. 27.

The youth told interrogators he prepared for his mission in a stronghold of al Qaeda-linked militant leader Baitullah Mehsud in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, said the official who declined to be identified.

The official said the "handler", identified as Sher Zaman, was the more important catch. "He is the real catch who can give us more clues," the official said.

The government said Mehsud was behind Bhutto’s killing. CIA Director Michael Hayden, in an interview with the Washington Post published on Friday, blamed Mehsud for Bhutto’s killing.

Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz and his ministry’s spokesman said they had no information about the arrest of the two.

The security official said Shah came from another northwestern district, Mansehra, but had been brought up in the southern city of Karachi.

Shah had told his interrogators a Muslim cleric sent him to South Waziristan where he lived in Makeen, a Mehsud stronghold.

Earlier, security officials said the youth had been arrested in Dera Ismail Khan while on his way to Karachi to attack Shi’ite Muslim processions.

The first security official said Shah was not in Rawalpindi when Bhutto was killed.

Mehsud has been blamed for a string of recent attacks, most on security forces, that has compounded a sense of crisis in the nuclear-armed country as President Pervez Musharraf has struggled to hold on to power in the face of protests from opponents.

A spokesman of Mehsud, Maulvi Omar, said he had no link with the youth. Omar again denied that Mehsud was involved in Bhutto’s murder. (Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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