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CIA Blames Islamic Militants for Bhutto's Death; Pakistan Steps Up Security

The CIA has blamed al Qaida-linked militants operating in Pakistan's mountainous tribal region for the assassination last month of former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Islamabad the Pakistani government is tightening security around the country to thwart militant attacks.

CIA director Michael Hayden said in a Washington Post interview published Friday al-Qaida linked militants allied with Pakistan's most wanted militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, killed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last month.

Raza Rabbani, Deputy Secretary of Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, says the PPP is not ready to give a reaction to the CIA statement.

"Obviously we'll have to go into it and we'll have to see in what light and in what context the statement has been made," he said. "And then I think the party would be in a position to give its reaction."

The Pakistani government also blames the killing on al-Qaida linked militants. But Ms. Bhutto's family and her supporters say the government is at least partly responsible for the assassination.

Family members say President Pervez Musharraf failed to provide adequate security for the former prime minister, while some Bhutto supporters blame her assassination on elements within Mr. Musharraf's deeply unpopular government.

To quell popular suspicion of government involvement, Mr. Musharraf allowed a team from Britain's Scotland Yard to aid in the investigation of Ms. Bhutto's death. The team is still investigating and has not yet come to any conclusion.

CIA director Hayden refused to discuss the intelligence behind the CIA assessment, but he told the Washington Post the militants were launching a campaign to destabilize the country.

The government says the militants want to disrupt the February 18 parliamentary elections.

Pakistan is reeling from a spate of bombings targeting security forces over the last few months that has claimed the lives of over 400 people.

On Thursday, a suspected Sunni militant opened fire in a Shi'ite mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar before blowing himself up, killing 11 people.

The attack bore the markings of sectarian violence that usually flares up every year during the Muslim holy month of Moharram - a mourning period for the seventh century death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

But political analyst Nasim Zahra says sectarian violence is being used as a cover for al-Qaida-linked militants to sow more chaos.

"It has to do with the larger issues of terrorism and whoever is doing this is attempting to spread terror, so whatever avenue they can get hold of where people are gathered they're using those avenues to basically terrorize," said Zahra.

Security has been increased across the country, with barbed wire barricades in front of religious sites to control access and snipers on rooftops to guard holy places.