Pak widens probe into Bhatti murder to include Taseer assassin

Islamabad: Pakistani authorities have widened the probe into the assassination of Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti to include members of his security detail and a detained police guard who had gunned down Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for opposing the blasphemy law, a media report said on Saturday.

Officials of Crime Investigation Department and members of the team investigating Bhatti`s murder went to Rawalpindi`s Adiala Jail yesterday to question Mumtaz Qadri, who had killed Taseer on January 4, after obtaining permission from the court conducting his trial, `The Express Tribune` reported.

Strongly suspecting the controversy over the blasphemy law to be the motive behind the Wednesday killing of Bhatti, investigators are looking for "possible links between the two high-profile killings that are separated by less than two months," the report said.

No "credible information" emerged from Qadri`s interrogation and police officials said the Governor`s killer denied any knowledge of a "possible broader conspiracy to target people" due to the blasphemy controversy.

Qadri "pleaded ignorance" about Bhatti`s killing and insisted that he had killed Taseer for committing blasphemy.

The daily quoted unnamed sources as saying that "certain clues" had been found during the investigation into Bhatti`s murder which led investigators to suspect a connection.

However, this was not officially verified.

Bhatti was gunned down by militants near his residence in Islamabad on Wednesday. The banned Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, saying he was assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law.

Police have rounded up several suspects, including a cleric of a mosque, for questioning in connection with Bhatti`s murder.

Police officials said 30 suspects and several witnesses were being questioned and Gul Sher, the driver of the slain minister, too was interrogated.

"His own statements did not match and they also contradicted the accounts given by eyewitnesses," an unnamed police official told the daily.

Gul Sher`s role had now become "suspicious," he said.

Four personnel from the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary, who were in Bhatti`s security detail, have been included in the probe and are being questioned. Several Frontier Constabulary personnel have been found to be involved in terrorism-related cases in Islamabad.

Sources said police officers responsible for Bhatti`s security too were questioned.

It was still not clear why the 15-member security detail had not followed the Standard Operating Procedures and was not with Bhatti at the time he was attacked.

Phone call records of the cell phone used by Bhatti too are being screened for clues, police officials said.