Al-Qa'ida sent me to kill Bhutto, says teenager

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The Independent Online

A teenage suspect arrested in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas has told police that he was a member of a team sent by an al-Qa'ida-linked militant leader to kill the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last month.

Aitezaz Shah, 15, had confessed to investigators he had been part of a five-man squad deployed on 27 December in Rawalpindi, where Ms Bhutto was killed, a senior intelligence official said. Shah said the killers were dispatched by Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader from the South Waziristan region with strong ties to al-Qa'ida and an alliance with the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. Shortly after Ms Bhutto's assassination, President Pervez Musharraf's government said it had intercepted a phone call in which Mehsud congratulated the perpetrators. A spokesman for the leader denied the claim.

There were suspicions that the authorities might be seeking to cover up the possible involvement of members of the military or intelligence, but last week, the CIA said it had concluded that people in Mehsud's network, aided by al-Qa'ida, were responsible.

Maulvi Mohammed Umar, a purported spokesman for Mehsud, denied his group had links with Shah, or that he had been dispatched by Mehsud to kill Ms Bhutto, calling the claim "government propaganda".

Ms Bhutto died after an attacker fired at her, then detonated an explosive vest which killed at least 20 other people. The teenager is said to have identified the attacker as "Bilal", aided by a man called "Ikram". Shah was arrested in Dera Ismail Khan with another suspect called Sher Zaman. He allegedly told officials he had been ordered to carry out a suicide attack on a Shia mosque there today during the feast of Ashura, and Zaman was to give him an explosive vest.

On Friday, the military said that up to 90 Islamic militants aligned with Mehsud had died in clashes with Pakistani troops in South Waziristan.