Pakistan: Benazir Bhutto prosecutor shot dead

Chaudhry Zulfiqar was shot and killed as he drove to court. Picture: Getty
Chaudhry Zulfiqar was shot and killed as he drove to court. Picture: Getty
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GUNMEN have assassinated the lead Pakistani prosecutor in two high-profile cases – the killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the assault on civilians in Mumbai, India – shocking a country reeling from Taleban attacks as it prepares for nationwide elections.

Chaudhry Zulfikar Ali was gunned down as he drove to court in the usually quiet capital, where a concentration of diplomats, government and military officials and aid workers live. Nobody claimed responsibility for the killing, but as Mr Ali’s work put him in direct conflict with militant groups, suspicion fell on them.

The shooting in Islamabad comes as Pakistan prepares for elections on 11 May. Taleban militants have tried to derail the elections with a wave of shootings and bombings aimed at candidates.

Mr Ali was leading the prosecution against several suspected Taleban militants as well as former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for alleged roles in the 2007 Bhutto assassination. He was also prosecuting militants linked to the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai.

The lawyer was on his way to a court in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, when gunmen shot him in the head, shoulder and chest at least 13 times, and then fled, said police officer Arshad Ali.

In the hail of gunfire, Mr Ali lost control of his car and hit a woman passing by and killed her, said another police officer, Mohammed Rafiq. Mr Ali’s bodyguard returned fire and is

believed to have wounded at least one of the attackers, Mr Rafiq added.

Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst, said it was difficult to say who might have been responsible for the attack because Mr Ali was involved in a number of dangerous prosecutions.

However, he said the fact that someone was able to kill such a prominent government official and then escape in what is supposed to be the most protected city in the country highlights the inability of the state to protect its citizens against militancy.

“The Pakistani state is helpless,” he said. “These groups have the initiative with them and the state simply reacts to that.”

Ms Bhutto’s husband, president Asif Ali Zardari, strongly condemned the prosecutor’s slaying and called for a thorough investigation.

Government prosecutors have accused Musharraf of being involved in the Bhutto assassination and not providing enough security to Pakistan’s first female prime minister. Musharraf, who was in power when Ms Bhutto was killed, has denied the allegations. At the time of the attack, he blamed the assassination on the Pakistani Taleban.

The Bhutto case has lingered for years in the Pakistani court system. A number of alleged assailants are on trial but no one has been convicted. The case burst into the headlines when Musharraf returned in March after four years in exile.

The prosecutor told reporters that he had received death threats recently in connection with the case but did not say from whom.

Mr Ali’s colleagues described him as a highly competent prosecutor. “He had a vast experience of handling complicated and high-profile cases and because of his competence he was assigned

the Benazir Bhutto case and some other cases,” said Ashraf Gujar.

SEE MORE: Obituary: Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007

SEE MORE: Bhutto murder blamed on Pakistani agents