Saturday, February 9, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Benazir Bhutto’s supporters disputed a Scotland Yard finding yesterday that a bomb not a bullet killed the former prime minister, and her party renewed its call for a full-scale international investigation into her death.

The British investigators’ report, released yesterday after a 2½-week investigation, concluded that Mrs. Bhutto suffered a fatal head injury when the force of a blast from a suicide bomber hurled her against a lever on the roof of her armored vehicle.

British investigators ruled out that the head injury could have been caused by a bullet. Pakistan’s government announced a similar conclusion shortly after Mrs. Bhutto’s killing, which occurred Dec. 27 at the end of a political rally in Rawalpindi.

Mrs. Bhutto’s party has insisted that the former prime minister was shot and suspects a government cover-up because she had accused President Pervez Musharraf’s political allies of plotting to kill her.

“We disagree with the finding on the cause of the death,” said Sherry Rehman, spokeswoman for the Pakistan Peoples Party, who escorted Mrs. Bhutto to the hospital after the attack. “She died from a bullet injury. This was and is our position.”

“This gives us all the more reason for a United Nations probe to know the perpetrators, financiers, sponsors and organizers of this crime,” she said.

The bomb site was hosed down within hours of the attack, removing any chance of a detailed forensic examination, and no autopsy was performed before Mrs. Bhutto was buried.

Television pictures appeared to show a gunman firing a pistol at Mrs. Bhutto as she waved to supporters from the vehicle’s escape hatch moments before the blast. British investigators confirmed shots were fired but said they did not cause her death.

The report also concluded the attack was carried out by a single assailant who fired the pistol and detonated the bomb. There was speculation that two attackers were involved.

Mr. Musharraf invited Scotland Yard to help establish the cause of death after rejecting calls for a U.N. probe.

But the response from Mrs. Bhutto’s party suggested the British report alone would not calm the political storm surrounding her death as the nation prepares for the crucial Feb. 18 parliamentary elections, which were postponed for six weeks after her death.

U.S. and Pakistani officials think the attack was masterminded by Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban militant commander with links to al Qaeda.

Senior police officer Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, who is heading Pakistan’s own investigation, yesterday confirmed that police had arrested two “important” suspects in the killing based on information from a 15-year-old boy apprehended last month in northwestern Pakistan.

The boy told police he was among a five-man suicide squad charged with assassinating Mrs. Bhutto.

The two suspects, identified only as Husnain Gul and Rafaqat, appeared in court yesterday and were ordered held for 12 more days.

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