Force of blast killed Bhutto, not bullet: report

A007699511.jpgWASHINGTON – British police have concluded that Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed by the force of a suicide bomb and not by an assassin’s bullet, The New York Times reported in its Friday editions.

The findings, if confirmed, would support the Pakistani government’s explanation of Bhutto’s death.

Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police, which sent investigators to examine her death, declined to comment on the report. A spokesman said the police force would not discuss its findings until they were made public.

Bhutto died on December 27 while campaigning in Rawalpindi.

Controversy rages in Pakistan over whether the popular politician was struck down by a bullet or by a concussive injury caused by the bomb, detonated after an assassin shot at her from close range.

President Pervez Musharraf asked Scotland Yard to help in the investigation. A poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan found almost half of all Pakistanis believed government agencies or politicians allied to Musharraf were involved in the killing.

The British police report, which will be presented to the Pakistani government and Bhutto’s family on Friday, said Bhutto died after the suicide blast detonated and she hit her head, the Times said.

It quoted “officials who have been briefed on the inquiry,” but did not identify which country the officials came from.

The newspaper also said the inquiry determined a single gunman, whose image was captured in photographs at the scene, caused the explosion. Government officials in Pakistan initially said there were two assailants, according to The Times.

Investigators shared the findings with Musharraf’s government on Thursday, the newspaper said.

After the assassination, government officials asserted that Bhutto died after striking her head, but many Pakistanis did not accept that explanation.

The Times said it was unclear how Scotland Yard reached its conclusions. Bhutto was buried without an autopsy and the crime scene was cleaned immediately after the blast, potentially washing away vital clues.

The report comes less than two weeks before Pakistan’s parliamentary elections on February 18, which were delayed by Bhutto’s slaying.

As thousands gathered to mark the end of a 40-day mourning period for Bhutto, Pakistani authorities announced two “important arrests” in connection with her assassination.

A senior police officer in Rawalpindi identified the suspects as Hasnain and Rifaqat, but gave no other details. Two others, including a 15-year-old who admitted being a backup suicide bomber, were arrested last month.

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