An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has charged seven people -- two senior police officers and five alleged members of the Taliban -- in connection with the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
“They have been charged with conspiracy as well as abetment in the murder,” Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a government prosecutor, told Reuters.
Bhutto was killed while campaigning in a gun and bomb attack in the city of Rawalpindi. (She had returned to the country from a self-imposed exile.)
Prosecutors said the policemen were specifically charged with security breaches and failure to protect Bhutto. One of the policemen is Saud Aziz, the former police chief of Rawalpindi. Aziz and the other police officer -- reportedly identified as a Khurram Shahzad -- have been in custody for the past year already.
According to Reuters, prosecutor Mohammad Azhar accused the two policemen of changing the security plan for [Bhutto].”
The Taliban militants were charged with several counts of criminal conspiracy over Bhutto's death. They are specifically believed by the court to have brought a suicide bomber from Pakistan's tribal areas to Rawalpindi to carry out the attack against Bhutto.
Pakistan media has identified the Taliban suspects as Hasnain Gul, Rafaqat Hussain, Sher Zaman, Aitzaz Shah and Abdul Rasheed.
There were also three other Taliban suspects, including Baitullah Mehsud, the former chief of the Pakistan Taliban, who was killed two years ago by a U.S. military drone strike in 2009. The other two suspects remain at large.
They have been in custody for the past four years.
All of the accused have denied the charges.
Another very high-profile Pakistani figure has also been implicated in Bhutto’s murder. Former President Pervez Musharraf was issued an arrest warrant earlier this year to answer questions over his failure to provide sufficient security for Bhutto and her campaign entourage. Musharraf has denied the allegation and was declared a fugitive by the court after failing to return to Pakistan to face charges. This past summer, Musharraf’s Pakistan bank accounts were frozen and his property confiscated.
Musharraf (who had always blamed the Taliban for the murder) remains in exile in Dubai and London.
The Pakistani court reportedly said it will deal with Musharraf later.
Following Bhutto’s death, Musharraf was forced to step down from power after Bhutto's party, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), triumphed in the general elections. Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, became president and remains in office.
Bhutto previously served as Pakistan's prime minister during two separate terms --- from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.