NEW DETAILS: Pakistani opposition leader killed

By: Natalie Greathouse
By: Natalie Greathouse

(CBS/AP) Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday, apparently after being shot and then attacked by a suicide bomber as she left a campaign rally, aides said.

At least 20 others also died, according to police and witnesses.

The death of the charismatic former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 election into chaos and created fears of mass protests and an eruption of violence across the volatile south Asian nation.

The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed a rally of thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. She was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up, said Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser.

Sardar Qamar Hayyat, a leader from Bhutto's party, said he was standing about 10 yard away from Bhutto's vehicle.

"She was inside the vehicle and was coming out from the gate after addressing the rally when some of the youths started chanting slogans in her favor," he said. "Then I saw a thin, young man jumping to her vehicle from the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away."

Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery.

"At 6:16 p.m. she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

"The surgeons confirmed that she has been martyred," Sen. Babar Awan, Bhutto's lawyer, said.

Bhutto's supporters at the hospital exploded in anger, smashing the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit. Others burst into tears. One man with a flag of Pakistan People's Party tied around his head was beating his chest.

"I saw her with my own eyes sitting in a vehicle after addressing the rally. Then, I heard an explosion," said Tahir Mahmood, 55, as she sobbed. "I am in shock. I cannot believe that she is dead," he said.

Some at the hospital began chanting, "Killer, Killer, Musharraf," referring to President Pervez Musharraf, Bhutto's main political opponent. A few began stoning cars outside.

"We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment including jammers, but they paid no heed to our requests," Malik said.

Her party had a very well-rehearsed security plan, reports CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar.

Nawaz Sharif, another former premier and opposition leader, arrived at the hospital and sat silently next to Bhutto's body.

Musharraf condemned the killing Thursday of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and called for calm, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.

Musharraf also called a high-level emergency meeting to discuss the government's response, the agency said. He then ordered a mourning period of three days for Bhutto.

"He urged the people to stay calm to face this tragedy and grieve with a renewed resolve to continue the fight against terror," the agency reported.

President Bush demanded Thursday that those responsible for Bhutto's killing be brought to justice.

"The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," he said. "Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice."

U.S. officials said they were looking into reports of Bhutto's death.

"Certainly, we condemn the attack on this rally. It demonstrates that there are still those in Pakistan who want to subvert reconciliation and efforts to advance democracy," said deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

Suspicion for the blast fell on resurgent Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban who hated Bhutto for her close ties to the U.S. and her support for the war on terror. A local Taliban leader reportedly threatened to greet Bhutto's return to the country in October with suicide bombings.

(CBS)"She's very much a hated person among the Islamists in Pakistan," said Michael Scheuer, terrorism expert for CBS News. "She was also hated amongst some of the other political parties and certainly an enemy of the military and intelligence services. So it's very surprising that she's lasted as long as she did."

"I don't want to sound callous, but I'm surprised it took this long," said Scheuer.

Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro condemned the attack and pledged to hunt down those responsible, appealing to the Bhutto's supporters to remain calm and refrain from violence, according to a statement from his office.

The United States has for months been encouraging Musharraf to reach some kind of political accommodation with the opposition, particular Bhutto, who is seen as having a wide base of support here.

The scene of the bombing Tuesday was awash in blood.

An Associated Press reporter could see body parts and flesh scattered at the back gate of the Liaqat Bagh park where Bhutto had spoken. He counted about 20 bodies, including police, and could see many other wounded people.

Party supporter Chaudry Mohammed Nazir said two gunshots rang out when Bhutto's vehicle pulled into the main street and then there was a huge blast next to her car.

Police cordoned off the street with white and red tape, and rescue workers rushed to put victims in ambulances as people wailed nearby.

The clothing of some of the victims was shredded and people put party flags over their bodies. Police caps and shoes littered the asphalt.

We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment including jammers, but they paid no heed to our requests.

Rehman Malik
security adviser to Benazir BhuttoOn Thursday, hundreds of riot police had manned security checkpoints to guard the venue. It was Bhutto's first public meeting in Rawalpindi since she came back to the country.

In November, Bhutto had also planned a rally in the city, but President Pervez Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears.

Sadiq ul-Farooq, a spokesman for Sharif's party, said the opposition leader was about 1.3 miles away when pro-government party supporters opened fire on people gathering for a rally at Karal Chowk, near the airport about 10 miles outside Islamabad.

"Nawaz Sharif and his procession are safe, but we have received reports that a few people were wounded and maybe a few suffered fatal injuries," ul-Farooq said. All the injured were from Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N group.

Pakistan's private ARY news channel quoted Sharif as saying the government had deliberately not provided security to his backers.

Imtiaz Ranjha, a spokesman or the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, condemned the attack and accused Sharif's supporters of provoking the fight. The party called for those involved to be punished, he said.

Local police chief Mohammed Hussain confirmed that four people were killed and three were wounded in the fighting.

Zaman Shami, an official at the police control room, said police were trying to determine who initiated the attack.

In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted security forces in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital where Musharraf stays and the Pakistan army has its headquarters.

On Thursday, hundreds of people were forced to pass through metal detectors and undergo body searches before entering a sprawling public park decorated with the red, black and green flags of Bhutto's party and massive portraits of her with local candidates running in Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.

Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Bhutto served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18.

Her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker, killing more than 140 people. On that occasion she narrowly escaped injury.

"We have to modify our campaign to some extent because of the suicide bombings. We will continue to meet the public. We will not be deterred." - she'd said.

Analysts say, she could have commanded around 26 percent of the popular vote in the elections, reports MacVicar.

Bhutto was killed just a few miles from the scene of her father's violent death 28 years earlier.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister and the founder of the party that his daughter would later lead, was executed by hanging in 1979 in Rawalpindi on charges of conspiracy to murder that supporters said was politically motivated by the then-military regime.

As Bhutto addressed the rally Thursday, she was flanked by a massive picture of her father.

Her first administration was clouded by allegations of corruption and clashes with Pakistan's powerful military; her administration was dismissed after 20 months.

She was re-elected in 1993. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, would spend eight years in prison on those accusations and others involving corrupt dealings allegedly amounting to millions of dollars.

Bhutto left Pakistan in 1999, just before a court convicted her of corruption and banned her from politics. The verdict was later quashed, but she stayed away until Musharraf signed an amnesty.

The question has been raised whether her exiled husband will step in and take her place, reports CBS News' Farhan Bokhari.

Speaking to the BBC, Sharif also questioned whether to hold the elections.

"I think perhaps none of us is inclined to think of the elections," he said. "We would have to sit down and take a very serious look at the current situation together with the People's Party and see what we have to do in the coming days.

© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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