Five accused persons in the Benazir Bhutto murder case were exonerated of all charges on Thursday as the Anti-Terrorism Court hearing the case for over nine years announced its verdict.
ATC Judge Asghar Khan announced the verdict in court, where former Rawalpindi CPO Saud Aziz and former Rawal Town SP Khurram Shahzad — suspects out on bail — were also present.
Aziz and Shahzad were sentenced to 17 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of Rs0.5 million each.
Moreover, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf was declared an absconder.
The court had reserved its verdict on Wednesday after the counsels of the suspects completed their arguments.
Bhutto, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief and two-time former prime minister, was assassinated in a suicide attack at an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh on December 27, 2007.
An FIR over the incident was registered on behalf of the state following which the murder trial of five suspects began in February of 2008. However, once PPP won the 2008 elections, the investigation was handed over to the FIA.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) public prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar said then PPP leader Babar Awan was in Bhutto’s backup vehicle, which was under the control of party leader Farhatullah Babar. He added that when the investigation was handed over to the FIA, the vehicle was recovered from Zardari House, Islamabad.
He said then president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s appearance before the court was excused as he had threats against his life from Al Qaeda.
“Of the 121 witnesses, only statements of 68 were recorded,” he informed the court further.
On Tuesday, suspects Hussain Gul and Rafaqat’s legal counsel Jawad Khalid told the court the statements received from his clients hold Musharraf, among others, responsible for the crime.
He also claimed that there is no solid proof against his clients. There is a conflict between investigating officers’ statements and the weapons recovered from the scene of the crime, he added.
“This raises suspicion,” he remarked, adding that the court should show mercy towards the innocent.
“The real culprits are not being punished for the crime,” the counsel claimed.
FIA prosecutor Khawaja Asif accepted that there is no record of the suspects in the DNA report.
The truth is that Bhutto was targeted for deviating from US policy, said Khalid, adding that there were no explosives in the suicide jacket that the suspects had submitted for DNA testing. Moreover, the suspect’s DNA report has not been submitted to the court.
On the other hand, the lawyer of Aziz and Shehzad said that nobody can stop a suicide attacker but it can be investigated who facilitated the attacker.
The statements of those injured in the attack have yet to be recorded and the post mortem of the bodies was not done, the lawyer pointed out.
From the three SIMs which were seized, two were not registered in any citizen’s name while the third SIM’s ownership was not investigated, the court was informed.
Former president Pervez Musharraf is also a suspect in the case, who has remained absconding since the beginning. A separate case was filed against his continuous absence, the trial for which is yet to begin.