Musharraf had prior info of Taliban plot to kill Bhutto

Islamabad: Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf knew in advance that then Tehrik-e-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was plotting the assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto but withheld the information from security agencies, a media report said on Thursday.

Musharraf, currently living in self-exile in Britain, had "prior knowledge" of the bid of Mehsud — who later died in a drone attack in the country`s tribal belt in August 2009 — to kill Bhutto but he "withheld this piece of vital information," Dawn News channel quoted its sources in the Federal Investigation Agency as saying.

It did not give details. The sources told the channel that the FIA had informed the Interior Ministry that it had applied for non-bailable arrest warrants for Musharraf to "compel him" to appear before an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi that is conducting the trial of five suspects charged with involvement in the assassination.

Khalid Qureshi , the head of FIA`s Joint Investigation Team probing Bhutto`s murder, informed the Interior Ministry yesterday that the latest chargesheet submitted in the anti-terrorism court contained 12 charges against former President Musharraf, the channel reported.

The sources said that the FIA, in its chargesheet, had said: "Based on motive, circumstantial evidence and statements mentioned above, it is prima facie established that Musharraf is equally responsible with criminal `mens rea` for facilitation and abetment of assassinating Benazir Bhutto through his government`s unjustified failure in providing her the requisite security protection her status deserved as twice prime minister."

`Mens rea` is a legal term that means "the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime."

The Joint Investigation Team has questioned former Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema, who said it was Musharraf who ordered a "premature press conference" on December 28, 2007 – the day after Bhutto`s assassination – without consulting the Punjab government .

At the news conference, Cheema had blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the assassination.

Dawn News reported that several FIA officials claimed a statement by former Intelligence Bureau chief Aijaz Shah had corroborated the statement made by Cheema.

The Joint Investigation Team believes Musharraf`s insistence on holding a news conference was aimed at "influencing" police investigations.

The FIA recently named Musharraf as an "absconding accused" in connection with the assassination case, saying he had failed to cooperate with investigators.

The FIA also alleged Musharraf did not take any action against police officers accused of negligence in protecting Bhutto.

According to the FIA, the fact that Musharraf did not order any judicial inquiry into the assassination lent strength to its suspicions.

Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber shortly after addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi in December 2007.