Pakistan has arrested a suspected Al Qaeda militant who slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto named before her death as one of those involved in an attempt on her life in October, a senior government official said.
Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who has been in Pakistani custody before, was arrested Monday in the eastern city of Lahore for alleged involvement in the October suicide bombing in Karachi that hit Bhutto’s homecoming parade when she returned from exile, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz said on Tuesday.
The bombing narrowly missed Bhutto but killed about 150 others. Bhutto was killed in a subsequent suicide attack on December 27 in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad.
“He is involved in the blasts in Karsaz. Therefore he has been arrested,” Nawaz told The Associated Press, referring to the Karachi neighbourhood where the October bombing happened.
Akhtar’s lawyer denied that he was involved.
Nawaz said authorities also arrested three other men, identified by Akhtar as his sons.
The minister did not provide details on the nature of Akhtar’s involvement in the October bombing, the deadliest suicide attack in Pakistan’s history.
The government has blamed both the Karachi bombing and Bhutto’s assassination on Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban commander in Pakistan.
Bhutto had disputed that Mehsud was behind the Karachi attack. In a book she wrote shortly before her assassination, she claimed that Akhtar was involved in the bombing. She also accused political allies of President Pervez Musharraf of plotting to kill her.
Akhtar’s lawyer, Hashmat Habib, said he would challenge his arrest in the Supreme Court. He confirmed that Akhtar had once fought in jihadist groups in Afghanistan and the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. But he said he had abandoned his involvement in militancy in 1994 and had no role in the Karachi attack.
Akhtar is believed to have run an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan during the former Taliban regime. The camp in Rishkhor, outside the capital Kabul, was visited by Osama bin Laden. He is also thought to have been active in militant groups fighting in Kashmir.
In August 2004, he was arrested in Dubai then extradited from the United Arab Emirates to Pakistan, where the government at the time said he was in Pakistani custody.
Nawaz confirmed that Akhtar had been arrested before but said he did not have details on his subsequent release.
“I know that he had been arrested once,” he said.
An intelligence official in Lahore said that police and intelligence agents arrested Akhtar in a raid on a home in a Lahore neighborhood where the suspect was teaching at a mosque. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to journalists. (AP)
Al Qaeda suspect arrested over October assassination attempt on Bhutto