ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani court Saturday indicted five Islamist militants and two police officers in the high-profile assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, prosecutors said.
Bhutto, the first female prime minister in the Muslim world, was killed in a gun and suicide attack in 2007 in one of the most shocking events in Pakistan’s turbulent history.
An anti-terrorism court indicted the seven men in a hearing held behind closed door in the city of Rawalpindi for security reasons.
“They have been charged with conspiracy as well as abetment in the murder,” Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a government prosecutor, told Reuters.
The charismatic Bhutto was killed on December 27, 2007 as she waved to a crowd through the sunroof of a sports utility vehicle following an election rally in Rawalpindi weeks after she returned to Pakistan from a self-imposed exile after striking a deal with then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf’s government had blamed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud for the killing. Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike near the Afghan border in 2009.
The five Taliban militants were charged with “criminal conspiracy” for bringing the suicide bomber from the tribal belt in the northwest to Rawalpindi where he carried out the attack, another prosecutor Mohammad Azhar said.
The police officers, including Saud Aziz, who was then Rawalpindi police chief, were charged with breach of security by “changing the security plan for BB (Benazir Bhutto),” he added.
Musharraf, who lives in exile in Dubai and London, also faces accusations of failing to provide adequate security to Bhutto.
The anti-terrorism court in February issued an arrest warrant for him and later declared him fugitive of law after he failed to respond to these accusations.
In August, the court ordered the confiscation of all property and the freezing of Musharraf’s bank accounts in Pakistan after he again failed to respond..
The prosecutor Ali said the court would deal with Musharraf’s issue later.
A report by a U.N. commission of inquiry released last year said any credible investigation should not rule out the possibility that members of Pakistan’s military and security establishment were involved in the killing, though it did not say who it believed was guilty.
It heavily criticized Pakistani authorities, saying they had “severely hampered” the investigation.
Musharraf has denied suggestions that he or his security agencies had any role in Bhutto’s murder.
After her death, Bhutto’s party won general elections in 2008 by riding a wave of public sympathy and ultimately forced Musharraf to step down.
Bhutto widower, Asif Ali Zardari, has been the president of the country since then.
Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Ed Lane