Al-Qaida accused of killing Bhutto

Pakistan sends troops to quell violence by supporters of former PM that has left 27 people dead.

kashmirBhuttoRiots 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
kashmirBhuttoRiots 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
A commander of pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan rejected government claims that he was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, his spokesman said Saturday. The spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, whom Pakistani authorities describe as an al-Qaida leader, dismissed the allegations as "government propaganda." "We strongly deny it. Baitullah Mehsud is not involved in the killing of Benazir Bhutto," Maulana Mohammed Umer, said in a phone call to The Associated Press from South Waziristan tribal region. "The government is leveling a baseless allegation and we think it is doing so to divert the attention of the people of Pakistan from the real killers." Umer is spokesman for the newly formed Tehrik-i-Taliban, a coalition of Islamic militants committed to waging holy war against the government. The group is led by Mehsud. The Interior Ministry on Friday released a transcript of a purported conversation between Mehsud and another militant in which he offered congratulations for the suicide attack. "It was a spectacular job. They were very brave boys who killed her," Mehsud said, according to the transcript. Umer said the militant coalition's enemy was America, not the political leaders of Pakistan, a key ally of Washington in its war on terror. "The fact is that we are only against America, and we don't consider political leaders of Pakistan our enemy. The suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto was not launched by us," he said. "I am clarifying our position after receiving instructions from Baitullah Mehsud." The government also alleged Mehshud was behind the Karachi bomb blast in October against Bhutto that killed more than 140 people and most other recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This fall, Mehsud was quoted in a Pakistani newspaper as saying he would welcome Bhutto's return from exile with suicide bombers. Mehsud later denied that in statements to local television and newspaper reporters. Bhutto's party on Friday rejected claims that Mehsud was behind the attack, saying the militant - through emissaries - had previously told Bhutto he was not involved in the Karachi bombing. After the Karachi attack, Bhutto accused elements in the ruling party, which is allied to President Pervez Musharraf, of plotting to kill her. The government denied the claims.