Government puts blame on al-Qai'da and a sun-roof lever

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The Independent Online

The Pakistani government has claimed it has evidence to show that al-Qa'ida and the Taliban were responsible for the attack that killed Benazir Bhutto. It has also triggered controversy by claiming Ms Bhutto died after severely striking her head, rather than being killed by bullets or shrapnel.

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Javed Iqbal Cheema, said the government had recorded an intelligence intercept in which a militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, "congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act". Mr Mehsud, leader of pro-Taliban forces in South Waziristan, was initially blamed for the October attack on Ms Bhutto's homecoming in Karachi, though one of his aides denied this.

Separately, Asia Times Online reported that a senior al-Qa'ida figure active in Afghanistan had claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had "terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat mujahedin". The militant, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, said: "This is our first major victory against those who have been siding with infidels."

It was initially reported that Ms Bhutto had died after being shot, possibly several times, when she poked her head up through the sun-roof of her bullet- and bomb-proof car to wave at supporters. But Mr Cheema said that all three of the assassin's shots had missed her and that she had died as a result of fracturing her skull when the bomb's shockwaves caused her to hit her head on a lever attached to the sun-roof.

The government's assertion was immediately dismissed by Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). "That is a false claim," said Babar Awan, a PPP lawyer. He said he had seen the body after the attack and there were at least two bullet wounds, one in the neck and one in the head. He added: "It was a targeted, planned killing. The firing was from more than one side."