WASHINGTON -- The CIA thinks that Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mahsud and his associates, some of them linked to al-Qaida, were responsible for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last month, a U.S. intelligence official said Thursday.
"There are strong indications that Baitullah Mahsud was behind the Bhutto assassination," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. "There is certainly no reason to doubt that Mahsud was behind this."
The intelligence official said he could not disclose how the CIA came to that conclusion, including whether it was based, at least in part, on a telephone call that Pakistani authorities say they intercepted shortly after Bhutto was killed. In that call, a man said to be Mahsud congratulates a cleric who claimed that his associates had killed Bhutto.
Mahsud has denied involvement in the attack on Bhutto on Dec. 27 at a political rally in Rawalpindi. But Mahsud, a tribal leader in northwestern Pakistan, has not publicly commented on the purported call.
The CIA assessment concurs with that of Pakistani officials, who have said they think Mahsud was probably behind the assassination and an attack on Bhutto's convoy in October, hours after she returned to Pakistan from a self-imposed eight-year exile.
A Bhutto associate said Thursday that Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party is skeptical of the CIA's view, especially given the lack of a forensic criminal investigation.
Josh Meyer writes for the Los Angeles Times.