[Guest post by DRJ]
An Al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:
“Confirming the worst fears of governments and anti-terror agencies worldwide, an al-Qaida leader on Friday claimed responsibility for the assassination of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto, whom he described as “the most precious American asset”.
“We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat (the) mujahideen,” al-Qaida commander and spokesman Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told the Italian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone call from an unknown location. Al-Yazid was described by AKI as the “main al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan”. It reported that the decision to kill Bhutto was made by al-Qaida No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October.
The report said death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and a cell comprising a “Punjabi volunteer” of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi killed Bhutto. President Pervez Musharraf had blamed the al-Qaida when he survived two assassination attempts in 2003 in Rawalpindi.
The Qaida claim coincided with a new theory about the exact cause of Bhutto’s death. Pakistan interior minstry spokesman, Javed Cheema, said on Friday that she was killed by shrapnel in the wake of the explosion triggered by the suicide bomber.
Cheema told Times Now that a man shot at Bhutto as she waved to her supporters from the sun-roof of her bulletproof car. But the bullets missed the slain leader. He then blew himself up and it was a splinter unleashed in the explosion that hit her and killed her. Agencies quoted Cheema as saying that Bhutto died after she was injured by the lever of the car in which she was travelling.
Doctors at Rawalpindi general hospital who tried to save Bhutto’s life also said that there were no bullet wounds in her body. PPP leaders had said on Thursday that she had been hit by shots fired by the suicide attacker while she was waving to supporters from her armoured vehicle.”
The Sydney Morning Herald filed this report about the Pakistani government’s statement on Bhutto’s injuries:
“Pakistan’s interior ministry said today Benazir Bhutto died after smashing her head on her car’s sunroof while trying to duck, and that no bullet or shrapnel was found inside her.
“If she had not come out of the vehicle, she would have been unhurt, as all the other occupants of the vehicle did not receive any injuries,” ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said. He said the post-mortem on the populist opposition leader, whose funeral earlier today was attended by hundreds of thousands of mourners, found her mortal wound came when she tried to duck after the bomber attacked.
The bomber also apparently fired three times at her but missed, Cheema said. When she ducked, she hit the lever of the sunroof of the car that was to speed her away from a campaign rally as she was gearing up to contest parliamentary elections set for January 8. “The lever struck near her right ear and fractured her skull,” Cheema said. “There was no bullet or metal shrapnel found in the injury.”
Bhutto’s lawyer disputed the government account as “a pack of lies”:
“But a top aide to Benazir Bhutto rejected the government’s explanation of her death as a “pack of lies”. “It is baseless. It is a pack of lies,” Farooq Naik, Bhutto’s top lawyer and a senior official in her Pakistan People’s Party, said.
“Two bullets hit her, one in the abdomen and one in the head,” Naik said. “Bhutto’s personal secretary Naheed Khan and party official Makhdoom Amin Fahim were in the car and they saw what happened,” he said.
“It is an irreparable loss and they are turning it into a joke with such claims. The country is heading towards civil war.”
It’s not a promising sign that the groups can’t agree on Bhutto’s injuries and what caused her death. I understand that prompt burials are culturally required but it works against the public interest in this case and will undoubtedly result in future disputes and conspiracy theories.
Cheema also claimed that the government had intercepted a congratulatory telephone call from Baitullah Mehsud, a South Waziristan (tribal area) Taliban who reportedly also has links to Al Qaeda:
“Mr Cheeema said intelligence services had intercepted a call today from the man considered to be a top al-Qaeda figure for Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, congratulating a militant after Bhutto’s death.
He said there was “irrefutable evidence that al-Qaeda, its networks and cohorts are trying to destabilise Pakistan”. “We have recorded his conversation in which he is congratulating a militant for the attack,” Cheema said, adding that Mehsud was also behind the suicide attack on Bhutto’s homecoming rally in October that killed 140 people.
“He is responsible for most of the attacks that have taken place in the country,” the spokesman said, calling for national unity “to eliminate the proponents of death and destruction who are trying to destabilise Pakistan.”
Pakistani authorities say Mehsud is based in the troubled tribal region of South Waziristan, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since the fall of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan in 2001. Mehsud had until recently been described by officials as the top pro-Taliban militant commander in the region but is increasingly said to have links to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda group.”
The Pakistani government obviously has an interest in blaming Bhutto’s assassination on Al Qaeda and Taliban interests and it may be that’s what happened. However, it’s not enough to show that extremists were responsible for Bhutto’s assassination. Musharraf also has to take steps to show the extremists did not have assistance from his government. That may be impossible to prove, for many reasons, but especially if it is not true.
It will be especially difficult to convince Bhutto’s supporters that Musharraf wasn’t responsible after reading Bhutto’s message to Wolf Blitzer:
“Bhutto, who was assassinated on Thursday, wrote to Blitzer that if anything happened to her, “I would hold (Pakistani President Pervez) Musharraf responsible.”
Blitzer received the e-mail on Oct. 26 from Mark Siegel, a friend and longtime Washington spokesman for Bhutto. That was eight days after she narrowly escaped another attempt at her life. Bhutto wrote to Blitzer that “I have been made to feel insecure by his (Musharraf’s) minions,” that specific improvements had not been made to her security arrangements, and that the Pakistani leader was responsible.
Bhutto did not necessarily believe that Musharraf wanted her dead, but felt many people around him did, he said.”
These have become Bhutto’s words from the grave and, for many people, they will always ring true.