Assassination of Benazir Bhutto


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Benazir Bhutto killed in suicide attack

(AP) – Pakistan opposition leader Benazir
Bhutto was assassinated Thursday by an attacker who shot her after
a campaign rally and then blew himself up. Her death stoked new
chaos across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in
the war on terrorism.

At least 20 others were killed in the attack on the rally for
Jan. 8 parliamentary elections where the 54-year-old former prime
minister had just spoken.

Angry supporters rioted in the southern port city of Karachi
after her killing, firing shots at police, setting tires and cars
on fire and burning a gas station. One person was killed north of
Karachi in the violent aftermath of the assassination.

Just before the attack

At the hospital where Bhutto died, some supporters smashed glass
and wailed, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf blamed Islamic extremists for her death and said he would
redouble his efforts to fight them.

“This is the work of those terrorists with whom we are engaged
in war,” he said in a nationally televised speech. “I have been
saying that the nation faces the greatest threats from these
terrorists. … We will not rest until we eliminate these
terrorists and root them out.”

In the U.S., a tense looking President Bush strongly condemned
the attack “by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine
Pakistan’s democracy.”

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said
Bush spoke briefly by phone with Musharraf.

Musharraf convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff,
where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the
elections, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on
condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Bhutto's body

Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister and leader of a
rival opposition party, demanded Musharraf resign immediately and
announced his party would boycott the upcoming election.

The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed
thousands of supporters in the Rawalpindi, a city 8 miles south of
Islamabad where the army is headquartered. She was shot in the neck
and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up, said Rehman
Malik, Bhutto’s security adviser.

Sardar Qamar Hayyat, a leader from Bhutto’s party, said at the
time of the attack he was standing about 10 yards away from her
vehicle — a white, bulletproof SUV with a sunroof.

“She was inside the vehicle and was coming out from the gate
after addressing the rally when some of the youths started chanting
slogans in her favor. Then I saw a smiling Bhutto emerging from the
vehicle’s roof and responding to their slogans,” he said.

“Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle from
the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding
vehicle going away,” he added.

Mangled bodies lay in a pool of blood and pieces of clothing and
shoes were scattered on the road. The clothing of some victims was
shredded and people covered their bodies with party flags.

There was an acrid smell of explosive fumes in the air.

Bush reacts to assassination

Police cordoned off the street and rescuers rushed to put
victims in ambulances as onlookers wailed nearby.

Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency
surgery. She died about an hour after the attack.

Hours later, her body was carried out of the hospital in a plain
wooden coffin by a crowd of supporters. Her body was expected to be
transferred to an air base and brought to her hometown of Larkana.

A doctor on the team that treated her said she had a bullet in
the back of the neck that damaged her spinal cord before exiting
from the side of her head. Another bullet pierced the back of her
shoulder and came out through her chest.

She was given open heart massage, but the main cause of death
was damage to her spinal cord, he said on condition of anonymity
because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. Those who committed this crime must be
brought to justice.”

“At 6:16 p.m., she expired,” said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of
Bhutto’s party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

“The surgeons confirmed that she has been martyred,” Bhutto’s
lawyer Babar Awan said.

Bhutto’s supporters at the hospital exploded in anger, smashing
the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit. Others
burst into tears. One man with a flag of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s
Party tied around his head was beating his chest.

“I saw her with my own eyes sitting in a vehicle after
addressing the rally. Then, I heard an explosion,” Tahir Mahmood,
55, said sobbing. “I am in shock. I cannot believe that she is
dead.”

Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of
complicity in her killing.

“We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper
security and appropriate equipment including jammers, but they paid
no heed to our requests,” said Malik, the security adviser.

As news of her death spread, angry supporters took to the
streets.

In Karachi, shop owners quickly closed their businesses as
protesters set tires on fire on the roads, torched several vehicles
and burned a gas station, said Fayyaz Leghri, a local police
official. Gunmen shot and wounded two police officers, he said.

One man was killed in a shootout between police and protesters
in Tando Allahyar, a town 120 miles north of Karachi, said Mayor
Kanwar Naveed. In the town of Tando Jam, protesters forced
passengers to get out of a train and then set it on fire.

Violence also broke out in Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and many
other parts of Pakistan, where Bhutto’s supporters burned banks,
state-run grocery stores and private shops. Some set fire to
election offices for the ruling party, according to Pakistani
media.

Akhtar Zamin, home minister for the southern Sindh province,
said authorities would deploy troops to stop violence if needed.

Musharraf, who announced three days of mourning for Bhutto,
urged calm.

“I want to appeal to the nation to remain peaceful and exercise
restraint,” he said.

Sharif arrived at the hospital and sat silently next to Bhutto’s
body.

“Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to
take the revenge for her death,” he said. “Don’t feel alone. I am
with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers.”

He rebutted suggestions that he could gain political capital
from her demise, announcing his Muslim League-N party would boycott
the elections and demanding that Musharraf resign.

“The holding of fair and free elections is not possible in the
presence of Pervez Musharraf,” he said. “Musharraf is the cause
of all the problems. The federation of Pakistan cannot remain
intact in the presence of President Musharraf,” he told a news
conference.

“After the killing of Benazir Bhutto, I announce that the
Pakistan Muslim League-N will boycott the elections,” Sharif said.
“I demand that Musharraf should quit immediately.”

Hours earlier, four people were killed at a rally for Sharif
when his supporters clashed with backers of Musharraf near
Rawalpindi.

Bhutto’s death will leave a void at the top of her party, the
largest political group in the country, as it heads into the
elections.

Pakistan is considered a vital U.S. ally in the fight against
al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists including the Taliban. Osama
bin Laden and his inner circle are believed to be hiding in lawless
northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

The U.S. has invested significant diplomatic capital in
promoting reconciliation between Musharraf and the opposition,
particularly Bhutto, who was seen as having a wide base of support
in Pakistan. Her party had been widely expected to do well in next
month’s elections.

Had the PPP either won a majority of seats or enough to put
together a majority coalition, Bhutto could have recaptured the job
of prime minister.

Bush, speaking briefly to reporters at his ranch in Crawford,
Texas, demanded that those responsible for the killing be brought
to justice.

“The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by
murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s
democracy,” said Bush, who looked tense and took no questions.

The assassination and concerns of further international
instability were cited as one reason for a fall in U.S. stock
prices and a rise in oil prices Thursday. In afternoon trade, the
Dow Jones Industrial Average of blue chip stocks was down more than
140 points or more than 1 percent.

Pakistan was just emerging from another crisis after Musharraf
declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3, and used sweeping powers
to round up thousands of his opponents and fire Supreme Court
justices. He ended emergency rule Dec. 15 and subsequently
relinquished his role as army chief, a key opposition demand.
Bhutto had been an outspoken critic of Musharraf’s imposition of
emergency rule.

Educated at Harvard and Oxford universities, Bhutto served twice
as Pakistan’s prime minister between 1988 and 1996.

Her father was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, scion of a wealthy
landowning family in southern Pakistan and founder of the populist
Pakistan People’s Party.

The elder Bhutto was president and then
prime minister of Pakistan before his ouster in a 1977 military
coup. Two years later, he was executed by the government of Gen.
Zia-ul Haq after being convicted of engineering the murder of a
political opponent.

Bhutto had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct.
18. On the same day, she narrowly escaped injury when her
homecoming parade in Karachi was targeted in a suicide attack that
killed more than 140 people.

Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban hated
Bhutto for her close ties to the Americans and support for the war
on terrorism. A local Taliban leader reportedly threatened to greet
Bhutto’s return to the country with suicide bombings.

Hundreds of riot police had manned security checkpoints around
the rally venue Thursday, Bhutto’s first public meeting in
Rawalpindi since she came back to the country.

In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted
security forces in Rawalpindi.

In November, Bhutto had also planned a rally in the city, but
Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears.

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