Caught in the act: assassin shooting Bhutto

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The Independent Online

Dramatic new photographs taken seconds before the murder of Benazir Bhutto cast serious doubt on the Pakistan government's official account of the death of the former prime minister. The three photographs first published by Pakistan's Dawn News appear to reveal Ms Bhutto's assassin advancing towards her vehicle, drawing out a pistol, and firing it at close range as the handful of security personnel duck for cover.

The government says that she was killed by a lone attacker as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi. Citing medical reports, it says she was killed when a blast set off by a suicide bomber smashed her head into a lever on the sunroof of her bullet-proof vehicle as she ducked down. Bhutto's opposition PPP party has dismissed the Interior Ministry's account as lies.

In the latest images, the suspected assassin is shown to be a young man of Pakistani origin in his early twenties. He is clean-shaven, wearing sunglasses, and dressed in black tie and waistcoat.

In the first photograph, he is captured looking towards the camera with another man suspected to be a suicide bomber standing behind him with a scarf across his face. The second photograph shows the suspected assassin raising his pistol in the direction of Ms Bhutto's vehicle.

The final image shows Ms Bhutto's supporters and security personnel lowering their heads in reaction to the gun shots. Ms Bhutto has dropped back down into the car. And the suspected suicide bomber is yet to detonate his device. According to experts, the photographs taken by an amateur appear to confirm the PPP's version of events. Ms Bhutto's party has said that she died after being shot in the head and the neck, just before a suicide bomber killed himself and at least 20 PPP supporters.

Javed Iqbal Cheema, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, has claimed that Ms Bhutto had died after slamming her head against the sunroof after climbing out to wave at crowds while leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi.

Sherry Rehman, the PPP's information secretary, dismissed Mr Cheema's account as "dangerous nonsense". Ms Rehman was in the car when Ms Bhutto died and when her body was bathed before burial.

"She has a bullet wound at the back of her head on the left side. It came out the other [side]," said Ms Rehman, who was injured when she was thrown out of the car by the blast. "That was a very large wound, and she bled profusely through that. She was even bleeding while we were bathing her for the burial. The government is now trying to say she concussed herself, which is ludicrous."

Yesterday, Asif Zardari, Ms Bhutto's husband, demanded that the United Nations and the British Government be allowed to lead an investigation into her murder. President Musharraf is considering calls for an international, independent inquiry.