Probe: Bhutto Killed by Blast Not Bullet
By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 8, 2008; 8:53 AM
Scotland Yard investigators have concluded that Paksitani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by the impact of a suicide bomb blast, not gunfire, according to a report released Friday.
Released less than a day after thousands of Bhutto's supporters converged on her gravesite to mark the end of a 40 day mourning period, the much anticipated report concurred with the Pakistani government's earlier assertions that a head injury sustained in the blast caused Bhutto's death. Contrary to earlier speculation, however, that two men carried out the Dec. 27 attack, the British-led inquiry concluded that there was only one assassin.
"The inevitable conclusion is that there was one attacker in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle in which Ms. Bhutto was traveling," the report said.
The investigative findings drew immediate and sharp condemnation from members of Bhutto's opposition Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, who renewed calls for the United Nations to launch a separate independent investigation into her assassination.
"It is not material what caused her death, what is material is to identify the perpetrators who caused her death," said Farhatullah Babar, a PPP spokesman.
Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has rejected calls for U.N. intervention, saying his government would rely solely on the Scotland Yard inquiry. Government officials again asserted their confidence Friday in the British agency's investigative work.
"We are relying on Scotland Yard. They have given a categorical and definite report," said Abdul Majid, head of the Pakistani police division involved in the investigation.
Bhutto's assassination during a political rally in the city of Rawalpindi in December, only six weeks after her return to Pakistan from exile, plunged the country into chaos. Riots and an increase in militant attacks have raised concerns about deteriorating security conditions in the nuclear armed nation of nearly 160 million.
Pakistani government officials announced findings similar to Scotland Yard's shortly after the suicide bomb blast that killed Bhutto and more than two dozen others as she waved from the roof hatch of an armored car during the rally in Rawalpindi.
British doctor Nathaniel Cary said in the report that an examination of X-rays led him to believe Bhutto was killed when the powerful blast caused her head to crash into the lip of the vehicle's hatch. Cary did not rule out the possibility that she may also have been struck by gunfire in the neck or upper torso, but emphasized the head injury as the main cause of death, adding that only a post mortem examination of Bhutto's body could provide any conclusive evidence of possible bullet wounds.
"In my opinion Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto died as a result of a severe head injury sustained as a consequence of the bomb-blast and due to head impact somewhere in the escape hatch of the vehicle," Cary said, using an honorific in referring to the slain politician.
The report drew no conclusions about who was behind the assassination. But the Pakistani government and Western intelligence officials have fingered Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban militant commander with links to al-Qaeda, as the lead organizer of Bhutto's assassination.
Pakistan's army has struggled mightily in recent years to break Mehsud's hold on the restive tribal areas near the border of Afghanistan and has suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Mehsud's fundamental Islamic confederates in the rugged, mountainous region.
Pakistani authorities confirmed Friday that two suspects -- Hussain Gul and a man named Rafaqat -- were arrested this week in connection with Bhutto's killing, bringing to five the total number implicated in the assassination plot. Police in Rawalpindi released few details about the two men, saying only that they were "apparent facilitators" of the attack.