Benazir`s suicide attacker a free man: Report

Benazir had named Qari Saifullah Akhtar in her last book as mastermind of suicide attack on her.

Updated: Dec 28, 2010, 21:04 PM IST

Islamabad: A key terror suspect accused
of masterminding a suicide attack on former Pakistani premier
Benazir Bhutto`s homecoming rally in Karachi in 2007 has
resurfaced in Punjab as a free man, according to a media
report on Tuesday.

Bhutto, who was assassinated by a suicide bomber in
December 2007, had named al-Qaeda-linked commander Qari
Saifullah Akhtar in her last book as the alleged mastermind of
the attack on her motorcade in Karachi.

Over 140 people died in that attack.

Akhtar, described as a "fugitive" leader of the
Taliban-linked Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami group, has been freed by
Punjab`s home department, The News daily quoted its sources in
security agencies as saying.

He had been kept under house arrest at an
undisclosed location in Chishtian sub-division of Punjab since
August and was freed in the first week of December, the report
said.

Earlier reports had said Akhtar had shifted to the
lawless Waziristan tribal region in 2008.

The daily quoted its sources as saying that Akhtar
had to abandon Waziristan, his birthplace, after he was
wounded in a US drone attack.

He travelled to Peshawar and then to Rawalpindi for
treatment, before being arrested and brought to Lahore.

The order for Akhtar`s release was issued ahead of
Bhutto’s third death anniversary.

In her posthumous book "Reconciliation: Islam,
Democracy and the West," Bhutto had narrated in detail the
suicide attacks targeting her homecoming rally and Akhtar`s
alleged involvement in the attack.

She wrote: "I was informed of a meeting that had
taken place in Lahore where the bomb blasts were planned.
Three men belonging to a rival political faction were
hired for half a million dollars.

However, a bomb maker was needed for the bombs.

Enter Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a wanted terrorist who
had tried to overthrow my second government.

"He had been extradited by the United Arab Emirates
and was languishing in the Karachi central jail.

The officials in Lahore had turned to Akhtar for help.

His liaison with elements in the government was a
radical who was asked to make the bombs and he himself asked
for a fatwa making it legitimate to oblige. He got one.

The bomb blasts took place in the army cantonment
area in Karachi."

Subsequently, Akhtar was arrested on February 26,
2008 by the regime of former President Pervez Musharraf for
questioning in connection with Bhutto`s murder though "many in
establishment circles believed that Qari Saifullah had
actually been taken into protective custody by his spy
masters," the report said. Akhtar is "considered a handy tool of the
intelligence establishment.

Whenever required, he is used and then dumped by his
spy masters," the report added.

Though Akhtar denied having any role in Bhutto`s
murder, he told his interrogators that since his 2007 release,
he had been in contact with former ISI chief Lt Gen (retired)
Hamid Gul and two former army officers, Maj Gen Zaheerul Islam
Abbasi and Brig Mustansar Billa, who had attempted to stage a
coup to topple Bhutto?s government in 1995.

Gul was one of three persons named by Bhutto as her
possible assassins in a letter written to Musharraf in October
2007. Born in January 1959 in South Waziristan, Akhtar is
a graduate of Jamia Binoria in Karachi.

He was also arrested and extradited from the UAE on
August 7, 2004 on charges of plotting two suicide attacks on
Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December 2003.

Instead of trying to prosecute him, security agencies
kept him under detention for two years and nine months without
filing any criminal charges against him.

This gave credence to reports that he was a "handy
tool" of the Pakistani establishment, the report said.

PTI