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24 April 2024

British probe finds force of blast killed Bhutto: reports

By Agencies


British police have found that Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed by a suicide blast and not an assassin's bullet, reports said Friday ahead of the release of their findings.

Scotland Yard detectives backed the Pakistani government's account of her death at an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, the New York Times and the website for Britain's Sky News said.

If confirmed, the results are likely to further stir up the controversy in the nuclear-armed nation, as the former premier's family and political party have completely dismissed the official explanation.

Sky said that the British investigators used high-tech imaging equipment to conclude that a lone gunman fired three shots at Bhutto, all of which missed -- although one passed through her hair and lifted up her headscarf.

The former premier, who was standing with her head through her car sunroof waving at supporters, tried to duck inside the car but the same assailant detonated explosives strapped to his body, both media outlets said.

The force of the blast smashed her head against the armour plating of her car, crushing her skull, they said.

The British investigators used sophisticated 3D imaging techniques on existing video and camera phone footage to reconstruct the exact paths of the three bullets fired, Sky said, citing its own unnamed sources.

The official release of the British team's findings was scheduled for 1:00 pm (0800 GMT), officials said. Pakistani and British officials said they had no comment on the two reports.

The reported findings would tally with photographs and footage shown in Pakistani media after the attack, which showed an apparent shooter wearing sunglasses, a series of gunshots and Bhutto's scarf flying up.

The New York Times however said it was not clear how the investigators had reached their conclusion when the scene of the attack was hosed down shortly afterwards and there had been no autopsy on Bhutto's body.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party has called for a United Nations inquiry into the killing and rejects the government account. Aides say they saw bullet wounds on her head as they bathed her corpse before burial.

Party spokesman Farhatullah Babar said he would not comment until after the official release of the Scotland Yard report.

The British team handed over the report to Pakistan's interior minister for the first time on Friday morning, interior ministry officials said.

Forensic and explosives experts from Scotland Yard spent two weeks in Pakistan after President Pervez Musharraf sought their help following Bhutto's death in a bid to clear up the controversy over her assassination.

Musharraf himself recently admitted that there was a possibility that Bhutto was shot, adding that the announcement she died from a skull fracture caused by her sunroof lever may have been made too hastily.

The government however says that the family refused to allow an autopsy on the two-time former prime minister that would have allowed the cause of death to be established more fully.

Scotland Yard's report will also make no difference to the ongoing debate about who was responsible for the killing.

Musharraf and the US Central Intelligence Agency have blamed Baitullah Mehsud, an Al Qaeda-linked, Islamist warlord based in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan, for masterminding the killing.

Bhutto said in an an autobiography to be published posthumously that she had warnings that four suicide squads -- one sent by Mehsud and another by a son of Osama bin Laden -- were after her.

But she also repeatedly accused a cabal of senior intelligence and government officials of plotting to kill her, notably in an attack when she returned from exile in Karachi on October 18 that killed 139 people.

Pakistani investigators said on Thursday that they had arrested two "very important alleged terrorists" in Rawalpindi in connection with Bhutto's murder.

The men, named as Hasnain and Rafaqat, were being questioned on Friday.

Both men had "tentacles from the tribal region and Baitullah Mehsud," a senior security official said.

Last month police arrested a 15-year-old boy who allegedly confessed to being part of a back-up squad of suicide bombers tasked by Mehsud with targeting Bhutto if the initial attack failed. (AFP)