U.S. Checking al Qaeda Claim of Killing Bhutto

While al Qaeda is considered by the U.S. to be a likely suspect in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Banazir Bhutto, U.S. intelligence officials say they cannot confirm an initial claim of responsibility for the attack, supposedly from an al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan.   

An obscure Italian Web site 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] mujahedeen."

It said the decision to assassinate Bhutto was made by al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al Zawahri in October. Before joining Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Zawahri was imprisoned in Egypt for his role in the assassination of then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

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Bhutto had been outspoken in her opposition to al Qaeda and had criticized the government of President Pervez Musharraf for failing to take strong action against the Islamic terrorists. 

"She openly threatened al Qaeda, and she had American support," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism adviser. "If al Qaeda could try to kill Musharraf twice, it could easily do this," he said.

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Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the bomb attack Oct. 18 during Bhutto's homecoming rally that killed 140 people but left the former prime minister uninjured.

Senior U.S. officials say it will take several days to sort out who was responsible and that it will be "a test of credibility for the Pakistani government."

U.S. officials monitoring Internet chat rooms known to be used by Islamic militants say several claims of responsibility have been posted, although such postings are notoriously unreliable.

In a statement Thursday night, an FBI spokesman said that there are "no specific threats" against the U.S. in web postings reviewed by the bureau.

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This post has been updated.

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