Bhutto Assassination Ignites Disarray


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 28, 2007

Bhutto Assassination Ignites Disarray

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan ‹ Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani opposition leader and 
twice-serving prime minister, was assassinated Thursday evening as she left a 
political rally here, a scene of fiery carnage that plunged Pakistan deeper into
political turmoil and ignited widespread violence by her enraged supporters.

Ms. Bhutto, 54, was shot in the neck or head, according to differing accounts, 
as she stood in the open sunroof of a car and waved to crowds. Seconds later a 
suicide attacker detonated his bomb, damaging one of the cars in her motorcade, 
killing more than 20 people and wounding 50, the Interior Ministry said.

News of her death sent angry protesters swarming the emergency ward of the 
nearby hospital, where doctors declared Ms. Bhutto dead at 6:16 p.m. Supporters 
later jostled to carry her bare wooden coffin as it began its journey to her 
hometown, Larkana, in southern Pakistan, for burial. In Karachi and other 
cities, frenzied crowds vented their rage, blocking the streets, burning tires 
and throwing stones.

The death of Ms. Bhutto, leader of Pakistan¹s largest political party, throws 
Pakistan¹s politics into disarray less than two weeks before parliamentary 
elections scheduled for Jan. 8 and just weeks after a state of emergency was 
lifted. There was immediate speculation that elections would be postponed and 
another state of emergency declared.

A deeply polarizing figure, Ms. Bhutto spent 30 years navigating the turbulent 
and often violent world of Pakistani politics, becoming in 1988 the first woman 
to lead a modern Muslim country.

She had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt upon her return to Pakistan 
two months ago. Her death now presents President Pervez Musharraf with one of 
the most potent crises of his turbulent eight years in power, and Bush 
administration officials with a new challenge in their efforts to stabilize a 
front-line state ‹ home to both Al Qaeda and nuclear arms ‹ in their fight 
against terrorism.

The attack bore hallmarks of the Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan. But 
witnesses described a sniper firing from a nearby building, raising questions 
about how well the government had protected her in a usually well-guarded 
garrison town and fueling speculation that government sympathizers had played a 

On Thursday evening, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the 
Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to local law enforcement 
agencies informing them about posts on some Islamic Web sites saying that Al 
Qaeda was claiming responsibility for the attack, and that the plot was 
orchestrated by Ayman al-Zawahri, the group¹s second-ranking official.

One counterterrorism official in Washington said that the bulletin neither 
confirmed nor discredited these claims. The official said that American 
intelligence agencies had yet to come to any firm judgments about who was 
responsible for Ms. Bhutto¹s death.

As world leaders lined up to express outrage at the killing of arguably 
Pakistan¹s most pro-Western political figure, a grim-faced President Bush said 
that the best way to honor her would be ³by continuing with the democratic 
process for which she so bravely gave her life.²

Speaking to reporters while vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., Mr. Bush
attributed Ms. Bhutto¹s death to ³murderous extremists who are trying to 
undermine Pakistan¹s democracy.² He telephoned Mr. Musharraf several hours after
the attack.

Mr. Musharraf went on national television on Thursday evening, describing the 
killing as ³a great national tragedy² and announcing a three-day period of 
national mourning. He called it a terrorist attack and vowed to continue to 
fight to root out the terrorists. ³I appeal to the nation to remain peaceful and
show restraint,² he said.

Despite the president¹s appeal, politicians and government officials said they 
feared more violence in the coming days from those protesting her death, but 
also from militants who would try to take advantage of the uncertain situation.

One former government minister said the backlash could make Mr. Musharraf¹s 
position untenable. ³Musharraf will not be able to control the situation now,² 
he said.

Before her return in October, Ms. Bhutto had spent nearly eight years in 
self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges stemming from her time as prime 
minister in the 1990s. Her return had been promoted by Washington as part of an 
agreement to share power with Mr. Musharraf and rescue his increasingly 
unpopular government by giving it a more democratic face.

She was a leading contender to become prime minister after the Jan. 8 elections,
campaigning as an advocate for Pakistan¹s return to party politics after eight 
years of military rule under Mr. Musharraf, who relinquished his military post 
only this month. She also presented herself as the individual who could best 
combat growing militancy in Pakistan.

Her comments condemning militancy and suicide bombing had made her a target of 
Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan. Her homecoming procession in Karachi was 
attacked by two bomb blasts that killed 150 supporters and narrowly missed 
killing her.

Much of the rage over her death is nonetheless likely to be directed at Mr. 
Musharraf, who kept her out of power for over eight years and had shown her only
a grudging welcome at first, and later outright hostility.

The country¹s other main opposition leader, another former prime minister, Nawaz
Sharif, announced Thursday evening that he was pulling his party out of the 
elections. A longtime political rival of Ms. Bhutto¹s, he had lately become an 
ally in pressing for a return to democracy in Pakistan.

³This is a tragedy for her party, and a tragedy for our party and the entire 
nation,² Mr. Sharif said as he visited the hospital on hearing the news of her 

Tauqir Zia, a retired general who recently joined Ms. Bhutto¹s party, the 
Pakistan Peoples Party, said it seemed that elections were unlikely to go ahead 
now in any case. ³P.P.P. is now in turmoil for the time being,² he said. ³It has
to find a new leadership.²

Other officials and politicians said they, too, thought elections would have to 
be postponed. ³This is going to lead to chaos and turmoil,² said the former 
interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who was nearly killed last week in 
a suicide bombing at a mosque in his home village. ³I was anticipating this, 
that suicide bombings would increase and there will be an exacerbation and 
intensification in the attacks. This was bound to happen.²

There were differing accounts of the attack. Zamrud Khan, a member of her party,
said Ms. Bhutto was shot in the head from gunfire that originated from behind 
her car in a building nearby. Seconds later a suicide bomber detonated his bomb,
damaging one of the cars in her motorcade and killing some 15 people on the 
ground, Mr. Khan said.

The Interior Ministry spokesman quoted by the state news agency, The Associated 
Press of Pakistan, said that the suicide bomber first fired on Ms. Bhutto and 
then blew himself up.

Amid the confusion after the explosion, the site was littered with pools of 
blood. Shoes and caps of party workers were lying on the asphalt. More than a 
dozen ambulances pushed through crowds of dazed and wounded people at the scene 
of the assassination.

Witnesses described hearing gunfire barely a minute before the loud explosion. 
Sajid Hussain, who had a shrapnel wound on his left hand, said he had heard at 
least three shots fired. ³Then there was a big explosion, the earth seemed to 
tremble, I fell down. And everything was covered in black smoke.²

Mr. Zia, the retired general, said he was sitting in a car ahead of Ms. Bhutto 
before the blast. ³A leader has to come out and lead and she did exactly that,² 
he said. ³But I would ask where was the security? How did they allow people to 
come so close to her? It is inconceivable. There is a definite lapse of 

Dr. Abbas Hayat of Rawalpindi General Hospital said that doctors had tried for 
35 minutes to resuscitate Ms. Bhutto, who he said had wounds to her head as well
as shrapnel injuries.

Dr. Mohamed Mussadik, head of the medical college in Rawalpindi and a top 
surgeon who attended to Ms. Bhutto at the hospital, said she was clinically dead
on arrival, according to Athar Minallah, a lawyer who had served in the 
Musharraf government but who has since helped lead the movement against him. In 
a telephone interview, Mr. Minallah said Dr. Mussadik had told him that the 
bullet wound was in the head.

Mr. Minallah said an independent, credible investigation into the assassination 
was critical, perhaps in partnership with an outside country. A precedent for 
this, he said, was the investigation into the murder of Ms. Bhutto¹s brother 11 
years ago. ³The government has to allow it,² he said, ³because the entire blame 
is on the government. Everyone I have spoken to believes it is the government 
that has done this. That makes the investigation of utmost importance.²

Apparently no autopsy was done, because the police did not request one, Dawn TV 
reported. Lawyers calling for an international neutral investigation are raising
questions about the speed with which Ms. Bhutto¹s body was moved. The body 
arrived in her southern home province, Sindh, before dawn, party officials told 
Agence-France Presse.

The assassination is likely to deepen suspicion among Ms. Bhutto¹s supporters of
Pakistan¹s security agencies. Ms. Bhutto has long accused parts of the 
government, namely the country¹s premier military intelligence agency, the 
Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of working against her and her party 
because they oppose her liberal, secular agenda.

In a letter she sent to Mr. Musharraf just before her return to Pakistan in 
October, she listed ³three individuals and more² who should be investigated for 
their sympathies with the militants in case she was assassinated.

An aide close to Ms. Bhutto said that one of those named in the letter was Ijaz 
Shah, the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another of the country¹s 
intelligence agencies, and a close associate of Mr. Musharraf¹s.

The second official was the head of the country¹s National Accountability 
Bureau, which had investigated Ms. Bhutto on corruption charges. The third was a
former official in Punjab Province who had mistreated her husband, Asif Ali 
Zardari, when he was in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges.

In an interview after Ms. Bhutto released the letter, a close aide to Mr. 
Musharraf said the people named in the letter were all political enemies of Ms. 
Bhutto. He said they did not have sympathy with militants and the government was
doing all it could to protect Ms. Bhutto.

A former senior Pakistani intelligence official said he did not believe that the
country¹s intelligence agency was involved. He blamed militants for the 
assassination, but said government-provided protection was far too lax and the 
area surrounding the rally should have been better secured.

³For sure, the government was complicit in the security aspects,² said the 
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ³I think the security 
arrangements of the police, they were not professionally handled.²

Salman Masood reported from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and Carlotta Gall from Kabul, 
Afghanistan. Reporting was contributed by Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan, 
Mark Mazzetti from Washington, David Rohde from New York and Jane Perlez from 
Sydney, Australia.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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