MULTAN, Pakistan -- Gunmen on Friday assassinated a Pakistani prosecutor who had been investigating the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Assailants opened fire on the prosecutor, Chaudhry Zulfikar Ali, as he drove to work from his home in a suburb of the capital, Islamabad, for a court hearing in which the former military leader, Pervez Musharraf, faces charges in relation to Bhutto's death in 2007.
Police said gunmen traveling by motorbike and in a taxi sprayed Mr. Ali's car with bullets, lightly wounding his bodyguard and killing a woman who was passing by when his car veered out of control. Television footage from the scene showed a bullet-riddled vehicle crashed by the roadside.
Mr. Ali died before he reached a hospital in Islamabad, where a doctor said he had been shot 13 times. Police said Mr. Ali's bodyguard returned fire and managed to wound one of the attackers. Police are searching for the attackers, all of whom escaped.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, and police said it was too early to comment on a possible motive. But few doubted that it was linked to Mr. Ali's work as a state prosecutor in some of the most sensitive cases in the nation, and his death reinforced the vulnerability of senior government officials who challenge Islamist militants and other powerful interests.
Mr. Ali represented the Federal Investigation Agency, which has implicated Mr. Musharraf in the death of Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007, just before the last election. After the previous hearing in the Bhutto case Tuesday, Mr. Ali told reporters that he had "solid evidence" that connected Mr. Musharraf with Bhutto's death.
Prosecutors and Bhutto's supporters accuse Mr. Musharraf of failing to provide adequate security to Bhutto after her return from exile in October 2007. Mr. Musharraf has denied those accusations.
Since Mr. Musharraf's return from exile in March, investigators have questioned him about the security arrangements for Bhutto in 2007. He insisted that, as head of state, he was not involved in administrative matters such as security arrangements.
Mr. Ali was also involved in another sensitive case: the trial of seven people from the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba charged with involvement in the attacks in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, which killed more than 160 people. The Lashkar activists have been on trial since 2009, accused of orchestrating the slaughter from Pakistan, and one of the defendants is the group's operational leader, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi. But the hearings have been characterized by opacity and a lethargic pace.
The trial is taking place at Adila jail in Rawalpindi, ostensibly on security grounds, and the media are barred from proceedings. Hearings have been repeatedly adjourned because of the absence of lawyers or the presiding judge. Currently, defense lawyers are cross-examining the prosecution witnesses. Mr. Ali was scheduled to appear in court today in relation to the case.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was founded with help from the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan's spy agency, in the 1990s, and its presumed leader, Hafiz Saeed, lives openly in the eastern city of Lahore. The spy agency says it has cut all links with the group.
Mr. Ali's death comes at a sensitive time, with Pakistanis scheduled to go to the polls for a general election May 11. Campaigning has been marred by widespread Taliban violence against candidates from secular parties. In the latest attack, gunmen on Friday shot dead a candidate from the secular Awami National Party, which has borne the brunt of attacks, along with his 6-year-old son, in the port city of Karachi.
Although Islamabad suffered a number of militant attacks in 2008 and 2009, it has escaped major violence in recent years. But several prominent figures have been assassinated on its streets, including the former governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and a minister for religious affairs.
Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, the interim prime minister, addressed the nation Friday evening and reiterated his government's resolve to hold free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections, and he said a special security cell had been established in the Interior Ministry to coordinate with the national election commission.
"This cell will collect intelligence reports and share [them] with provincial government and law-enforcing agencies, and this cell is also empowered to take decisions for timely action if needed," Mr. Khoso said. "All resources will be used to improve security of the sensitive polling stations and their effective monitoring."
Mr. Musharraf returned from exile with a plan to run for Parliament in a general election. He faces charges in several cases related to his time in power, including the killing of Bhutto, a Baloch nationalist leader's killing and the firing of senior judges. Mr. Musharraf, a retired general, has been disqualified from contesting the election, and a court this week banned him from politics for life. He also faces possible treason charges.
In the court hearing in Rawalpindi, lawyers for Mr. Musharraf argued that he should be exempted from appearing in person in the case, Pakistani television stations reported. The hearing was adjourned until May 14.