Washington: The CIA blames Al-Qaeda and allies of a Pakistani tribal leader for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the agency’s director Michael Hayden said in a Washington Post interview published today.
Hayden’s comments were the most definitive public assessment by a US intelligence official of who was responsible for the assassination of the former Pakistani prime minister and opposition leader on 27 December last year, the Post said, adding that the CIA assessment mirrors that of Pakistan.
Hayden said Bhutto was killed by fighters allied with Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal leader in northwestern Pakistan, with support from Al-Qaeda’s terrorist network, Post reported.
Hayden declined to discuss the intelligence behind the CIA’s assessment, the newspaper said.
“This was done by that network around Baitullah Mehsud. We have no reason to question that,” Hayden said.
The Post said Hayden described the killing as “part of an organized campaign” that has included suicide bombings and other attacks on Pakistani leaders.
Hayden said the same network was behind a new wave of violence threatening the stability of President Pervez Musharraf’s government, a key ally in Washington’s war on terror, the newspaper said.
“You’ve got this nexus now that probably was always there in latency but is now active: a nexus between Al-Qaeda and various extremist and separatist groups,” Hayden said in the interview.
“It is clear that their intention is to continue to try to do harm to the Pakistani state as it currently exists,” Hayden added.
Soon after the assassination of Bhutto in Rawalpindi, the Pakistan government said Mehsud, an Al-Qaeda-linked militant leader, was behind the attack.
Pakistan says the militants are intent on destabilizing the country in the run-up to a Feb. 18 election meant to complete a transition to civilian rule.
The parliamentary elections were due to be held on 8 January but were postponed after Bhutto was killed in a firearm and bomb attack.