Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto killed in suicide attack, about 20 killed

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto killed in suicide attack, about 20 killed

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack Thursday as she drove away from a campaign rally just minutes after addressing thousands of supporters.
The death of the charismatic former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 election into chaos and stirred fears of mass protests and an eruption of violence that was already brewing across the volatile south Asian nation. Suspicion for the attack was almost certain to fall on Islamic militants.
It also left a void at the top of her Pakistan People's Party, the largest political group in the country. It also threw into turmoil U.S. President George W. Bush's plan to bring stability to this key U.S. ally by reconciling her and President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf condemned the attack and urged calm in the wake of Bhutto's killing, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.
He convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the election, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
Next to Musharraf, Bhutto, 54, was the best known political figure in the country, serving two terms as prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She was respected in the West for her liberal outlook and determination to combat the spread of Islamic extremism, a theme she returned to often in her campaign speeches.
As news of her death spread, supporters at the hospital in Rawalpindi smashed glass doors and stoned cars. Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of complicity in her killing.
In Karachi, shop owners quickly closed their businesses as protesters set tires on fire on the roads, torched several vehicles and burned a gas station, said Fayyaz Leghri, a local police official. Gunmen shot and wounded two police officers, he said.
In Rawalpindi, the site of the attack, Bhutto's supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled from the scene. Violence also broke out in Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and many other parts of Pakistan, where Bhutto's supporters set fire to a bus, pelted stones at shops and blocked city roads.
Nawaz Sharif, another former premier and leader of a rival opposition party, rushed to the hospital and addressed the crowd.
"Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to take the revenge for her death," he said. "Don't feel alone. I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers."
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."
Suspicion for the blast fell on resurgent Islamic militants linked to al Qaida 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.
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 attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed a rally of thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. There were conflicting accounts over the sequence of events.
Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser, said she was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up.
But Javed Iqbal Cheema, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told state-run Pakistan Television that Bhutto died when a suicide bomber struck her vehicle. At least 20 others were killed in the blast, an Associated Press reporter at the scene saw.
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.
Sen. Babar Awan, Bhutto's lawyer, said, "The surgeons confirmed that she has been martyred."
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 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.
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.
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.
Bhutto 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.
Bhutto was killed just a few kilometers (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. His killing led to violent protests across the country.
As Bhutto addressed the rally Thursday, she was flanked by a massive picture of her father.
Minutes later, as she drove away from the rally, the area was awash in blood.
"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," said Sardar Qamar Hayyat, a leader from Bhutto's party who was about 10 yards (meters) away. "Then I saw a smiling Bhutto emerging from the vehicle's roof and responding to their slogans."
"Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle from the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away. That was the time when I heard a blast and fell down," Hayyat said.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene 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.
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.
On 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 Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears. 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.


Updated : 2021-05-10 03:04 GMT+08:00