Pakistan Says Bhutto¹s Death Has Qaeda Link


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 29, 2007

Pakistan Says Bhutto¹s Death Has Qaeda Link

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan ‹ As the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest, 
the government on Friday recast its version of the events of her assassination 
and announced that it had obtained an intelligence intercept pinning the attack 
on a militant linked to Al Qaeda.

With many of Ms. Bhutto¹s supporters openly blaming the government for her 
death, the Interior Ministry made the surprising announcement that Ms. Bhutto 
had died not from gunshots or shrapnel but from a skull fracture when she was 
thrown by the force of the suicide bomb and hit her head on a lever of the 
sunroof of the car in which she was riding.

A senior American official in Washington said there was some debate within the 
Bush administration over whether to press President Pervez Musharraf to open the
investigation to law enforcement officials from outside Pakistan, including the 

The body of Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister, was interred at a mausoleum at 
her ancestral village in southern Pakistan on Friday in a ceremony attended by 
thousands of mourners as riots continued across the country, leaving 23 people 
dead, including four security officers.

To prevent the violence from spreading, the government ordered an almost 
complete shutdown of services. Officials suspended much train service and most 
domestic flights. Gas stations across the country were closed, making it 
virtually impossible to make long journeys by car. Roads were closed around city
centers, and television and Internet services were shut down or operated only 
sporadically in most cities.

As pressure grew for an independent inquiry, the government said two high-level 
investigations were being conducted: one led by the senior judiciary and one by 
high-level police and intelligence officials.

The government identified a militant leader with links to Al Qaeda, Baitullah 
Mehsud, who holds sway in tribal areas near the Afghanistan border, as the chief
suspect behind the attack.

³We have an intercept from this morning in which he congratulated his people for
carrying out this act,² Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a spokesman for the Interior 
Ministry, said in a briefing to reporters.

³We have irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda and its networks are trying to 
destabilize the government,² he added. ³They have been systematically attacking 
our government, and now a political icon.² Ms. Bhutto, he said, was on the hit 
list of Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

Mr. Mehsud has been blamed for most of the rising tide of suicide attacks on 
government, military and intelligence targets in recent months. Based in the 
South Waziristan tribal areas, he is known to run training camps, prepare and 
dispatch suicide bombers on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and 
have links to the Arab and Central Asian militants who have established a 
stronghold in the tribal areas.

Brigadier Cheema said the Bhutto assassination was connected to several other 
attacks whose targets have included Mr. Musharraf and several high-ranking 
government officials over the last few years, as well as to some more recent 
attacks on army and intelligence personnel.

Saying he wanted to dispel erroneous reports that Ms. Bhutto had died from 
gunfire, Brigadier Cheema gave an exhaustive description of the episode and 
showed a video on which Ms. Bhutto could be seen waving at the crowd from the 
sunroof of her car as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi. But the camera 
lost focus in the pandemonium after it recorded the sound of three gunshots.

Ms. Bhutto tried to duck down into the car just as the suicide bomber detonated 
his explosives, and the force of the blast caused her to strike her head, he 
said. ³One of the levers of the sunroof hit her on the right side, which caused 
a fracture, and that is what caused her death,² Brigadier Cheema said. He said 
shrapnel from the blast hit the left side of the car, but her injury was on the 
right side of her head. The lever on the car showed traces of blood, he said.

³There was no bullet that hit Mohtarma Bhutto, there was no splinter that hit 
Mohtarma Bhutto, and there was no pellet that hit her,² he said, referring to 
Ms. Bhutto with a term of respect. It remained unclear if the suicide bomber had
fired the shots or if a second person had, he said.

Ms. Bhutto was almost unconscious when taken to the hospital, he added. He said 
that Ms. Bhutto¹s husband had not allowed an autopsy but that doctors conducted 
an external postmortem and took X-rays.

Islamic custom dictates that the body be buried as soon as possible.

President Bush, who is at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., this week, held a 
teleconference on Friday with his senior national security advisers, including 
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; the 
C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden; and Stephen J. Hadley, the national 
security adviser, to weigh options for Pakistan.

³The president told his senior national security team that the United States 
needs to support democracy in Pakistan and help Pakistan in its struggle against
extremism and terrorism,² said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman.

Mr. Musharraf and his supporters in the Bush administration, meanwhile, were 
coming under increasing pressure, inside and outside Pakistan, to open up the 
inquiry. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said Friday that 
the United States should call for an independent investigation.

³I don¹t think the Pakistani government at this time under President Musharraf 
has any credibility at all,² she told CNN in an interview. She suggested an 
investigation along the lines of the ongoing international inquiry into the 
assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

State Department officials said they had no plans for the moment to join the 
investigation. But a senior Bush administration official said, ³There¹s a 
growing sense that we¹re going to have to work on the investigation in some way,
that it can¹t just be a Pakistani investigation.²

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized 
to speak publicly on the issue, said that administration officials were 
concerned that ³there¹s so much distrust² of the Musharraf government among 
Pakistanis that outside nations may have to join the investigation to give the 
findings any credibility.

A second administration official said the idea of an independent international 
investigation had been proposed by ³a number of people, and is certainly 
something that hasn¹t been ruled out.² But, he added, no decision had been made.

Indeed the distrust of Pakistan¹s government among Ms. Bhutto¹s supporters runs 
strong and deep, and the government¹s effort to place responsibility for the 
assassination on Qaeda-linked militants may not be readily accepted by them.

One Western official who met with Ms. Bhutto the day before her death said that 
while Ms. Bhutto was concerned about the threat from militants, she was most 
preoccupied by government restrictions on her campaign before parliamentary 
elections scheduled for Jan. 8.

She complained that in the city of Peshawar, she had to hold her rally in a 
cricket stadium far away from the center of town under tight security, said the 
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. She 
was not allowed to lead a procession all the way to the stadium, and she 
complained that the crowd of some 2,000 supporters was small because of the 

Ms. Bhutto also complained that while the militants represented a threat, the 
government was as much a threat in its failure to ensure security. After she 
returned to Pakistan from eight years in self-imposed exile, she sent an e-mail 
message on Oct. 26 to her spokesman in the United States, Mark Siegel, saying 
that if anything happened to her, Mr. Musharraf should be held responsible.

³I have been made to feel insecure by his minions and there is no way what is 
happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted 
windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides could happen
without him,² the message read.

She also suggested on many occasions that either the government had a deal with 
the militants that allowed them to carry on their terrorist activities, or that 
Mr. Musharraf¹s approach at dealing with them was utterly ineffective.

Brigadier Cheema acknowledged as much. Asked why the government did not act 
against Mr. Mehsud, when he was known to be training suicide bombers, he said, 
³It is not that easy.² Mr. Mehsud is always on the move and goes underground 
very quickly after communicating with his people, so it is hard for the security
forces to follow up on intelligence intercepts, he said.

The opposition leader¹s death, meanwhile, left the nation¹s politics teetering 
on a knife¹s edge, and the prospect of elections uncertain. At Ms. Bhutto¹s 
funeral, grief-stricken supporters thronged the ambulance carrying her remains 
as it crawled through a haze of dust from her family home in Garhi Khuda Baksh, 
in southern Sindh Province, to an imposing white marble mausoleum three miles 

Wailing mourners beat their heads and jostled to touch the coffin, draped in the
red, green and black flag of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which Ms. Bhutto had 
led for decades. They wept and threw rose petals as the coffin was lowered into 
the grave beside the grave of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was president
and prime minister from 1971 to 1977. He was ousted and executed by a military 
dictator in 1979.

Clad in a white Sindhi cap, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, wept as he helped 
lower the simple coffin into the grave. He was accompanied by the couple¹s son, 
Bilawal, 19, and two daughters, Bakhtawar, 17, and Aseefa, 14, news reports 

Even as Ms. Bhutto was laid to rest in the midst of a chaotic but peaceful 
crowd, there were signs of the violent outbursts that had erupted after her 
death. En route to the mausoleum, the coffin passed the smoldering wreckage of a
passenger train that rioters had set aflame, according to The Associated Press. 
Rioting flared across Pakistan.

Thousands of people took to the streets in the central city of Multan, 
ransacking banks and gas stations and throwing stones at the police, The A.P. 
reported. In the generally peaceful capital, Islamabad, a crowd of about 100 
protesters set fire to tires.

In Peshawar, an estimated 4,000 supporters of Ms. Bhutto¹s party chanted, 
³Bhutto was alive yesterday, Bhutto is alive today,² and cried, ³Musharraf dog.²

The continuing violence caused many to question whether the government could 
proceed with parliamentary elections. But the government has announced a 
three-day mourning period for Ms. Bhutto and no decision is likely to be made 
during it.

Muhammad Mian Soomro, the caretaker prime minister, told reporters in Islamabad 
that the government would hold talks with all political parties to chart a plan 
of action, but that ³right now, the elections stand as they were announced.²

The Pakistan Peoples Party has made no comment on its election plans. All the 
leaders of the party attended the funeral on Friday, and they have declared that
they will observe the traditional 40 days of mourning.

Yet the party could be expected to win an overwhelming sympathy vote, which 
could give it a majority in Parliament, analysts and politicians said. Other 
parties could also suffer in the polls from a backlash after the death of a 
national leader.

Several leading politicians said they did not think the government could go 
ahead with elections so soon after what is being described as a national tragedy
that has dismayed people across the political spectrum.

Another politician was killed Friday in a suicide attack in the Swat Valley, a 
famed tourist area in northwestern Pakistan. And on Thursday, a sniper killed 
four people at a rally for Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister and the leader 
of the other main opposition party.

³Speaking on a personal level, there is no mood or inclination to have an 
election,² said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim
League faction that backs Mr. Musharraf. He said the elections could be 
postponed until March to allow people time to regroup. ³Right now there is so 
much uncertainty.²

Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, and Helene Cooper from 

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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