- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — A 15-year-old detained near the Afghan border has confessed to joining a team of assassins sent to kill former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, officials said yesterday, announcing the first arrests in the assassination last month.

Police also announced they had foiled new suicide attacks against the country’s Shi’ite minority.

Interior Secretary Kamal Shah confirmed the arrest of two persons in the town of Dera Ismail Khan in North-West Frontier Province, and said one — a teenage boy — had confessed his involvement in the Dec. 27 attack that killed Mrs. Bhutto. He said interrogators were trying to get corroborating testimony from the other detainee before accepting the confession.

In the southern city of Karachi, meanwhile, the police chief said officers detained five men with explosives, detonators and a small quantity of cyanide intended for attacks on last week’s Shi’ite Muslim festival of Ashoura.

“With these arrests we have foiled major attacks,” said police Chief Azhar Farouqi, adding that the militants may have wanted to put the cyanide into the municipal water supply.

Security officials elsewhere in the country said they had arrested at least 55 other terrorist suspects in a crackdown apparently sparked by a surge in rebel attacks along the restive border with Afghanistan and a spate of bombings targeting Shi’ites.

The growing bloodshed has cast doubts on the ability of the security forces to maintain peace during the campaign for parliamentary elections on Feb. 18. It has also sparked calls from opposition politicians for President Pervez Musharraf to step down.

In North-West Frontier province, a senior intelligence official said the 15-year-old suspect in the Bhutto assassination told investigators that a five-person squad was dispatched to Rawalpindi, where Mrs. Bhutto was killed, by Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader with strong ties to al Qaeda and an alliance with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In Dera Ismail Khan, a town 170 miles southwest of Islamabad where the teen was arrested Thursday, a district police commander said the suspect had made “a sensational disclosure.”

But Maulvi Mohammed Umar, a purported spokesman for Mehsud, dismissed the report. “It is just government propaganda. … We have already clarified that we are not involved in the attack on Benazir Bhutto.”

The CIA concluded that Mehsud was behind Mrs. Bhutto’s killing shortly after it occurred, an American intelligence official said.

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