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2 more held in Bhutto slaying

One suspect was seen near the ex-premier's vehicle just before she died, investigator says.

January 21, 2008|Kaswar Klasra and John M. Glionna | Special to The Times

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Authorities arrested two more alleged militants Sunday in connection with the recent assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, an investigator said.

The arrests took place in Pakistan's mountainous North-West Frontier Province, where a teenage suspect and a man identified as his handler were taken into custody two days earlier.

One of those arrested Sunday was identified as Mohammed Akram, from the Mansehra district. Authorities said video taken on the day Bhutto was slain showed Akram standing in front of her vehicle moments before she was killed, said the investigator, who asked not to be named.

However, a spokesman for the Pakistani Interior Ministry denied that any suspects had been taken into custody Sunday.

It was unclear what Akram was doing that caused him to become a suspect. Police did not release any information on the second man arrested Sunday.

The investigator said police had reviewed videos of the event and were looking for anyone who was in front of Bhutto's vehicle before the shots were fired.

On Saturday, police arrested a teenager who they said told them he would have been the next suicide bomber sent to target Bhutto had she survived the Dec. 27 attack.

The teen, Aitzaz Shah, and another suspect, Sher Zaman, identified as Shah's handler, were transferred to Islamabad, the capital, on Sunday for further interrogation.

Also on Sunday, police searched Shah's home in Single Kot village in the Mansehra district, but it was unclear whether they uncovered any additional evidence.

Elsewhere, violence erupted across Pakistan's mountainous border with Afghanistan on Sunday as thousands marked the Ashura holiday, when Shiite Muslims mourn the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Attacks on Shiites by majority Sunni Muslims often occur during the holiday.

In Hangu, near Peshawar, seven people were wounded when security forces opened fire on a funeral procession, police said. Authorities used machine guns and a helicopter gunship after, they said, mourners violated a ban on processions in the town.

Also near Peshawar, a senior intelligence officer was shot to death by masked militants.

Nisar Ali Khan, a deputy director of the Pakistani intelligence bureau, was ambushed en route to a mosque in the town of Charsadda.

Hafizur Rehman, a Muslim cleric riding with Khan, told police that "masked men got out from their vehicles and opened fire" about 6 a.m. Police said Khan died on the spot.

In Islamabad, a Scotland Yard team investigating the Bhutto assassination left for Britain on Sunday.

An official for the British High Commission in Pakistan said the team left temporarily for an analysis of evidence collected during its investigation.

Countering Pakistani media reports that officials here were not fully cooperating with the British team, spokesman Aidan Liddle denied that investigators had been stymied.

"Scotland Yard is delighted with the cooperation we have received" from the Pakistani government, he said. "Any suggestion otherwise is frankly wrong."


Klasra is a special correspondent and Glionna a Times staff writer. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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