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Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Scotland Yard delivers Bhutto report

January 9, 2008

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— For the last several days, anti-terrorism investigators from Scotland Yard have been scouring the scene of Benazir Bhutto's killing, interviewing hospitalized survivors of the attack and poring over morgue records, trying to pin down precisely how she died.

On Tuesday, the team delivered a confidential report of their early findings to embattled President Pervez Musharraf. But whether the information will ever be made public, or will help resolve many unanswered questions and accusations surrounding her death, remains in doubt.

With the nation awash in angry charges that the government was complicit in the killing, or at least failed to provide adequate security for the former prime minister, Scotland Yard's involvement is widely seen as an attempt by the government to lend its own investigation a veneer of legitimacy.

But the involvement of the British team "will not help because they've been invited by the government," said Gen. Hameed Gul, a former head of Pakistan's intelligence services. "The report will be submitted to the government and it will not be released," he predicted.

Bhutto had just finished a campaign speech in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27 and was preparing to drive away from the rally when she emerged through the sunroof of her armored vehicle to wave at a surrounding mob of supporters. What happened next is a matter of considerable dispute.

Video footage broadcast on television and the Internet shows a man near the car raising a gun in her direction, followed by the explosion of a suicide blast. Bhutto aides in the car and nearby in the crowd say she was shot in the neck and head and died of blood loss after being pulled back inside.

Musharraf's government, however, at first insisted the opposition party leader had died when she hit her head on the car's sunroof lever as she re-entered the vehicle, something those inside the car denied. The president has blamed the explosion on Islamic militants.

In recent days, however, Musharraf has conceded Bhutto might have died of a bullet wound, though he insisted she was to blame because she decided to emerge from the armored car. He has steadfastly maintained, even before the government's investigation is complete, that no state official was involved in her death.

The investigators' task of proving conclusively what happened - and more importantly, who was to blame - will be harder because of the peculiar way in which Pakistani officials have handled the case. Government workers quickly used fire hoses to wash down the scene of the killing, destroying potential forensic evidence.

That, Gul said, is not routinely done "in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world."

Bhutto's body also was not subjected to an autopsy, in part because of her husband's wishes.

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