A Pakistani high court has granted bail to five suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda militants arrested for their alleged role in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto, who had served twice as prime minister in the 1990s, was killed in a gun and bomb attack in 2007 in Rawalpindi, the garrison city neighbouring the capital, after she finished addressing a political rally. Her assassination plunged the country into political chaos and spasms of violence.
The government of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf blamed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baituallah Mehsud for the attack. Mehsud had later denied the charges.
However, police arrested Abdul Rashid, Aitzaz Shah, Rafaqat Hussain, Husnain Gul and Sher Zaman and claimed that they were active members of TTP for their alleged role in the killing. An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi acquitted the five in its verdict of August 31, 2017 but they were not set free due to alleged links with militants.
A two-member Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court comprising Justice Mirza Waqas and Justice Sardar Serfraz yesterday granted bail to the five suspects on surety bonds worth Rs 500,000 each, Dawn News reported.
The bench further directed the authorities concerned to ensure their presence at every hearing of the case. It was not clear when they will be released as they were already shifted to the Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore from the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi on November 28, 2017.
An official of the prison department said the release orders were likely to be received today or tomorrow, the report said. However, he added that the provincial government could extend their detention as the Punjab government had the legal authority to do so.
Earlier, soon after their acquittal by the ATC, the five TTP suspects were detained for 30 days at the Adiala central jail on the recommendation of the Counter-Terrorism Department of the Punjab police.
On September 1, 2017, a Counter-Terrorism Department officer informed the Rawalpindi district administration through a letter that the release from jail of Sher Zaman, resident of North Wazirstan, would be prejudicial to public safety and maintenance of public order.
The district administration subsequently issued detention orders under Section 26 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) ordinance for the five suspects for a period of one month. After the completion of the month-long detention, they were detained for another 60 days. On Nov 28, 2017, the TTP suspects were again detained for three more months on a directive of the LHC.