Mysterious crowd suddenly stopped Bhutto's car, officer says
Mysterious crowd suddenly stopped Bhutto's car,
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
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 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
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
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
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
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)