Bhutto became the victim of Islamic extremism: US intelligence

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Washington, Dec 28 (UNI) The man who assassinated Pakistan former prime minister Benazir Bhutto could have been working with any of the Islamic extremist groups, including al Qaeda, US intelligence officials and South Asia analysts claim.

Citing the investigations by the officials, the Los Angeles Times today reported that since the list of Bhutto's enemies was a long one , it is not likely that someone working alone killed the daughter of a Pakistani political dynasty.

A more likely scenario, they say, is that Al Qaeda was ultimately responsible, because it has long targeted Bhutto and stands to gain the most from the political destabilization that is certain to follow her slaying. If that turns out to be the case, it is also likely that additional extremist organisations were involved, analysts say.

Within Pakistan, Osama bin Laden's global network group has worked closely with more than a dozen radical fundamentalist Islamic organisations that have grown in power and popularity.

Two of them, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, changed their names to avoid US and Pakistani sanctions after they were designated as terrorist organisations. Other groups include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.

All are Sunni Muslim-based and oppose Bhutto in part because she was female and Shiite Muslim. Though they have links to Al Qaeda, such Sunni Muslim extremist groups have their own leaders and their own agendas.

Another suspect is Baitullah Mahsud, a Taliban commander operating in Pakistan's tribal areas, who reportedly pledged before Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October to dispatch suicide bombers against her.

Complicating the situation is the fact that many of the extremist groups have ties to Pakistan's political establishment, including elements of the government loyal to President Pervez Musharraf, as well as close ties to the military and its intelligence agencies.

Bhutto had long criticised such links, and in the wake of her killing yesterday, some of her supporters accused the government of playing a role.

US intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies, and groups such as the September 11 commission, have said that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency in particular has cultivated relationships with radical groups, using them as proxies to wage war against India while protecting Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan.

They however said that they were investigating but could not confirm an initial claim of responsibility for the attack that reportedly came from an Al Qaeda leader. An Italian website said Mustafa Abu al Yazid, Al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, told its reporter in a phone call, ''We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat the mujahedin.'' UNI XC ARB AS1917

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