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British Team Says Blast, Not Bullet, Killed Bhutto

A photo taken seconds before Benazir Bhutto was killed after a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, shows the former premier standing with her head through her vehicle's sunroof. A Scotland Yard report released yesterday concluded that she died when a bomb blast caused her head to hit the edge of the opening.
A photo taken seconds before Benazir Bhutto was killed after a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, shows the former premier standing with her head through her vehicle's sunroof. A Scotland Yard report released yesterday concluded that she died when a bomb blast caused her head to hit the edge of the opening. (By John Moore -- Getty Images)

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By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 9, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 8 -- Scotland Yard investigators have concluded that Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed by the impact of a suicide bomb blast, not gunfire, according to a report released Friday.

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The much-anticipated report concurred with the Pakistani government's earlier assertion that a head injury Bhutto sustained in the blast had caused her death. However, contrary to earlier speculation that two men carried out the Dec. 27 attack, the British-led inquiry concluded that there was only one assassin.

"The inevitable conclusion is that there was one attacker in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle in which Ms Bhutto was traveling," said the report, which was released a day after thousands of Bhutto's supporters converged on her burial site to mark the end of a 40-day mourning period.

Members of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, immediately condemned the findings, insisting that she had been shot to death. They also renewed calls for the United Nations to launch a separate independent investigation into her assassination.

"It is not material what caused her death. What is material is to identify the perpetrators who caused her death," said Farhatullah Babar, a PPP spokesman.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has rejected the idea of U.N. intervention, saying his government would rely solely on the Scotland Yard inquiry. Government officials on Friday reiterated their confidence in the British agency's findings.

"We are relying on Scotland Yard. They have given a categorical and definite report," said Chaudhry Abdul Majid, head of the Pakistani police division that conducted its own investigation.

Bhutto's assassination following a political rally in the city of Rawalpindi, just 10 weeks after her return from exile, plunged Pakistan into chaos, sparking riots and raising international concerns about deteriorating security conditions in the nuclear-armed nation of nearly 165 million people.

Pakistani officials announced findings similar to Scotland Yard's shortly after the attack that killed Bhutto and more than two dozen other people as she waved from the sunroof of an armored sport-utility vehicle.

Nathaniel Cary, the British Home Office pathologist who was consulted as part of the Scotland Yard inquiry, said in the report that an examination of X-rays led him to believe Bhutto was killed when the powerful blast caused her head to strike the lip of the SUV's roof hatch. Cary did not rule out the possibility that she might also have been struck by gunfire in the neck or upper torso but emphasized the head injury as the main cause of death, adding that only a postmortem examination could provide conclusive evidence of bullet wounds.

The X-rays were taken by doctors when Bhutto arrived at the hospital. Her family declined an autopsy.

"In my opinion Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto died as a result of a severe head injury sustained as a consequence of the bomb-blast and due to head impact somewhere in the escape hatch of the vehicle," Cary said, using an honorific.

The report drew no conclusions about who was behind the assassination. But the Pakistani government and Western intelligence officials have alleged that Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban commander with links to al-Qaeda, was the lead organizer of the attack.

Pakistani authorities confirmed Friday that two suspects -- Husnain Gul and a man identified only as Rafaqat -- were arrested this week in connection with Bhutto's killing, bringing to five the number of people implicated in the case. Police in Rawalpindi released few details about the two men, saying only that they were "apparent facilitators" of the attack.


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