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Head injury, not bullets, caused Bhutto's death: Pak
December 28, 2007 21:49 IST
Last Updated: December 29, 2007 00:34 IST
The Pakistan government on Friday blamed the Al Qaeda [Images] for the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto [Images], claiming the terror group was responsible for a series of suicide bombings aimed at destabilising the country.
Interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema said, "Al Qaeda commander Baitullah Mehsud masterminded the suicide bombing against Bhutto and intelligence agencies had intercepted a conversation in which he congratulated certain persons for the attack."
Cheema also told a news conference that Bhutto had not been struck by a bullet or sharpnel from the suicide bomb but had died after her skull was fractured when she hit a metal lever on the sun-roof of her armoured vehicle.
The spokesman's account of the reasons for her death was the third since Bhutto was assassinated by a suicide bomber after an election rally in Rawalpindi on Thursday. PPP leaders had initially said that Bhutto was hit by shots fired by the suicide attacker, while caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan later said that a medical report indicated she was injured by a shrapnel during the blast.
A video of the attack on Bhutto was shown at the news conference and three shots could be heard before the suicide bomber detonated his explosives. Cheema also pointed out that the attacker was on the left side of the vehicle while Bhutto was injured on the right side of her skull.
Cheema released photographs of the bloodstained lever of the car's sun-roof and X-rays which, he said, showed that no foreign elements were present in Bhutto's body. He said there was no ambiguity about the cause of Bhutto's death.
Cheema said that the al-Qaeda was targeting Pakistan's "state institutions in order to destabilise the country" and that Baitullah Mehsud was also behind the two suicide blasts during Bhutto's homecoming rally in Karachi in October that killed approximately 165 people.
"We have irrefutable evidence that al Qaeda, its networks and cohorts are bent on destablising Pakistan, which is a key player in the war on terror," Cheema said.
A transcript of the intercept of Mehsud's conversation, which was recorded at 9.15 am on Friday, showed that he had spoken to someone called 'Maulvi' who apparently indicated that the attack on Bhutto was carried out by three men.
Though Cheema referred to Mehsud as an al Qaeda commander, he is better known as a Pakistani Taliban commander who was recently made chief of the Tehrik Taliban-e-Pakistan, a new coalition of militant groups from the northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Earlier in the day, an al Qaeda leader based in Afghanistan had claimed responsibility for the assassination of Bhutto.
"We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat (the) mujahadeen," Al Qaida commander Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told the Italian news agency Adnkronos International.
Al-Yazid was described by AKI as the "main al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan". It was reported that the decision to kill Bhutto was made by Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri in October.
The interior ministry also clarified that an autopsy was not performed on Bhutto's body at the request of her husband Asif Ali Zardari, though doctors had carried out an external post-mortem using X-rays.
Cheema and Interior Minister Khan said that the government had informed the Pakistan People's Party about the threat to Bhutto's life and told the party that she should be careful in her movements.
They also said that Bhutto may have survived the attack if she had not exposed herself from the sun-roof of her bulletproof vehicle. Cheema also said that the jammers provided to Bhutto offered "no protection against suicide attacks".
"Jammers can only protect (someone) if a device is remotely activated through a signal. A suicide attacker activates his device manually, and no equipment can foil the manual activation (of a bomb)," he said.
The PPP had earlier complained that the jammers provided to Bhutto were defective