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Mysterious crowd suddenly stopped Bhutto's car, officer says

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20080111/wl_mcclatchy/2812898;_ylt=Aq8Ofh_8CREVb21yBa_vZhys0NUE Mysterious crowd suddenly stopped Bhutto s car, officer says
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 11, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20080111/wl_mcclatchy/2812898;_ylt=Aq8Ofh_8CREVb21yBa_vZhys0NUE

      Mysterious crowd suddenly stopped Bhutto's car,
      officer says

      By Saeed Shah and Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy
      Newspapers Fri Jan 11, 4:04 PM ET

      ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two new reports on the
      assassination last month of Pakistani opposition
      leader Benazir Bhutto suggest that the killing may
      have been an ambitious plot rather than an isolated
      act of violence and that the government of President
      Pervez Musharraf knows far more than it's admitted
      about the murder.

      A police officer who witnessed the assassination said
      that a mysterious crowd stopped Bhutto's car that day,
      moving her to emerge through the sunroof. And a
      document has surfaced in the Pakistani news media that
      contradicts the government's version of her death and
      contains details on the pistol and the suicide bomb
      used in the murder.

      The witness was Ishtiaq Hussain Shah of the Rawalpindi
      police. As Bhutto's car headed onto Rawalpindi's
      Liaquat Road after an election rally Dec. 27 , a crowd
      appeared from nowhere and stopped the motorcade,
      shouting slogans of her Pakistan Peoples Party and
      waving party banners, according to his account.

      Bhutto, apparently thinking she was greeting her
      supporters, emerged through the sunroof of the
      bulletproof car to wave.

      It was Shah's job to clear the way for the motorcade.
      But 10 feet from where he was standing, a man in the
      crowd wearing a jacket and sunglasses raised his arm
      and shot at the former prime minister. "I jumped to
      overpower him," the deputy police superintendent said
      later. "A mighty explosion took place soon
      afterwards."

      Shah suffered multiple injuries and is recuperating in
      a Rawalpindi military hospital, guarded by agents of
      Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

      Who organized the crowd is only one of the mysteries
      two weeks after the assassination. "I don't know who
      they were or from where they came," the Rawalpindi
      officer told Dawn newspaper. "They just appeared on
      the road."

      The second report emerged in the Pakistani daily
      newspaper The News, with detailed information about
      the pistol and bomb. It rejects the government's
      conclusion that Bhutto died when the force of the
      suicide blast threw her head against the sunroof lever
      of her car. Such an impact couldn't have fractured her
      skull, it said. The government refused to confirm the
      report's authenticity, but a security official
      verified it to McClatchy . He spoke only on condition
      of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
      subject.

      According to the document, which the paper described
      as a "top agency" preliminary report, a pistol made by
      Norinco, a Chinese brand, was recovered from the
      scene, with the lot number 311-90. An MUV-2 triggering
      mechanism for the bomb also was found, as had been
      used in 15 previous suicide bombings in Pakistan ,
      with the same lot number and factory code.

      "It is a clear indicator that the same terrorist group
      is involved in almost all these incidents," concluded
      the report, which the paper quoted at length.

      Another mystery of the case is why so valuable a
      report has been buried. Among its other conclusions:
      Bhutto's assassin, after shooting her, detonated his
      own suicide belt. No ambulance was called, and it took
      25 minutes to get her to the hospital, only two miles
      from the scene.

      Bhutto, and her security adviser Rehman Malik , had
      complained repeatedly that she was given inadequate
      official security, including mobile phone jammers that
      didn't work and less than the four-vehicle escort that
      she thought was needed to protect the four corners of
      her car. In an e-mail to her U.S. lobbyist, Mark
      Siegel , in late October, Bhutto wrote that if
      anything happened to her "I would hold Musharraf
      responsible," in addition to four individuals she
      named as plotting to kill her in a letter sent to
      Musharraf on Oct. 16 .

      There was no security cordon around Bhutto— who'd
      escaped a suicide bombing attack Oct. 18 , the day she
      returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile abroad—
      as she left the park in Rawalpindi. The crime scene
      was cleared immediately and hosed down, destroying
      vital evidence. Doctors at the hospital where she was
      taken, who announced the night it happened that she'd
      died of bullet wounds to the head and neck, changed
      their story the next day. There was no autopsy.

      Musharraf's government has stuck to its explanation
      that Bhutto died when she hit her head on the
      sunroof's lever after the bomb went off, despite the
      emergence of several videos that show the gunman
      firing, then Bhutto disappearing into her vehicle
      before the blast. Officials also turned up what they
      said was a transcript of a telephone conversation
      between the supposed masterminds— militant Islamists
      allied with the Taliban— congratulating each other,
      the next day.

      Scotland Yard detectives, whom Musharraf called in
      under pressure from home and abroad, have been told
      that they're to investigate only the cause of death,
      not the killer's identity. "Providing clarity
      regarding 'The precise cause of Ms. Bhutto's death' is
      said to be the principal purpose of the deployment,"
      said Aidan Liddle , a spokesman for the British High
      Commission in Islamabad .

      To many in Pakistan , it all raises questions about
      whether the government was complicit in the
      assassination. To others, it points at the very least
      to a concerted attempt to hide the massive extent of a
      security failure.

      Bhutto's own private-security arrangements seemed
      poor, chaotic and amateurish. Armored cars are not
      fitted with sunroofs. Hers was modified in Karachi
      against all safety advice, according to a security
      company that operates in that city but spoke only on
      condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of
      the subject. After Bhutto's death, her husband made
      the startling revelation that she'd been guarded by
      men he'd met in prison.

      "Both the state and the internal security of the
      Pakistan Peoples Party failed miserably," said Masood
      Sharif Khattak , who was the head of the Intelligence
      Bureau , Pakistan's top civilian intelligence agency,
      while Bhutto was prime minister and now is retired.
      "But state responsibility (for her security) stands
      first and foremost."

      "The fact that there are so many suicide bombings
      taking place in the country, and the security and
      intelligence apparatus is unable to prevent them, only
      leads to one conclusion: The jihadists have enablers
      within the system that allow them to do their stuff,"
      said Kamran Bokhari of Strategic Forecasting, a
      consultancy based in Austin, Texas .

      "We're not talking high-level officials, just people
      at midlevel, but mostly junior, who could provide them
      with logistics to operate."

      Musharraf has denied that government agencies are
      involved at any level.

      One of the most widely suspected forces behind
      Bhutto's assassination, al Qaida, hasn't claimed
      responsibility. The Pakistani militant whom the
      government has blamed, Baitullah Mehsud, has denied
      it. Mehsud is a 34-year-old tribal leader in the
      lawless Waziristan region, in the northwest, who's
      emerged as the leader of Pakistan's version of the
      Taliban.

      Dr. Farzana Shaikh , associate fellow at the Royal
      Institute of International Affairs in London , said:
      "If they (al Qaida) are intent on weakening Musharraf
      and his regime, they could do no better than this. For
      them to simply leave room open for speculation, much
      of which has centered on government complicity, would
      be a very clever move."

      "That people are willing to believe this is a very
      telling reflection of the declining credibility of the
      Musharraf regime."

      (Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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