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Security lapse and Bhutto's personal touch made her vulnerable to attack

Security lapse and Bhutto's personal touch made her vulnerable to attack

Lax security allowed an assassin to approach within a few meters of Benazir Bhutto, her aides said. But those charged with protecting the populist politician blamed her decision to open a hatch in her bombproof vehicle and chat with jubilant supporters for ultimately causing her demise.
The dispute over who was at fault intensified as a newly released video of her assassination and an inconclusive medical report raised new doubts about the official explanation of her death and bolstered calls for an independent, international investigation.
Bhutto, who died Thursday in a gun and suicide bomb attack, reveled in personal campaigning and directly engaging her supporters, traits that fueled her popularity among many of Pakistan's desperate poor, but also posed a challenge for the security forces assigned to protect her.
"She was a very brave lady and sometimes when you see the supporters and cheering crowds there is a tendency not to heed the security department, and that's exactly what happened, unfortunately," Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said.
Even before Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October from eight years in exile, she was warned suicide squads were targeting her. At her homecoming parade in Karachi, twin bombers struck her convoy, killing about 150 people, some of them the police assigned to protect her.
She complained bitterly in recent months that her life remained in danger and that the government of President Pervez Musharraf, was not giving her the proper protection.
In an October e-mail that an associate forwarded to CNN's Wolf Blitzer and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, she said specific security improvements she had requested were ignored. "I have been made to feel insecure by his (Musharraf's) minions," she said.
Bhutto, a former prime minister who was leading her party into parliamentary elections, had blamed elements in the ruling party for the threats against her. The government said an al-Qaida-linked militant leader orchestrated her killing Thursday, a claim both the militant and Bhutto's aides rejected.
At the Rawalpindi rally where Bhutto was slain, hundreds of police in riot gear ringed the park where she spoke, frisking those entering and making most pass through metal detectors. Police snipers could be seen in at least four positions on nearby rooftops. A 10-meter security zone was cordoned off in front off the stage, which was flanked by guards in plainclothes carrying assault rifles.
The stage had been swept by security officials and inspected by bomb-sniffing dogs, Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz said.
"There were ample security arrangements there," he said.
The attack occurred several minutes after the rally ended, when Bhutto's vehicle drove onto the road outside the park. Cheema said her vehicle was protected by four police mobile units comprising a total of 25 or 26 officers.
The new video footage of the attack, obtained by Britain's Channel 4 television, showed a man firing a pistol at Bhutto from just feet away as she poked her head out of the sun roof and greeted a crowd of supporters swarming her heavily armored SUV. Her hair and shawl then jerked upward and she fell into the vehicle just before an explosion _ apparently detonated by a second man _ rocked the car.
No police were seen trying to push the crowd away.
"Why was the road not blocked and cleared of people when Benazir Bhutto was coming out, and why was the security so lax in and outside the ground?" asked Aghasiraj Durrani, a senior official in Bhutto's party.
Talat Masood, a former army general and security analyst, said specially trained officers should have been scanning the crowd for potential attackers and Bhutto's guards should have created a security perimeter around her vehicle wide enough to protect her from a shooting or bomb attack.
"There always has to be a radius around her, and you can't leave her unprotected for even a second," he said. "The security undoubtedly was below the mark, much below the standards required for a leader of her stature."
Bhutto's aides, including one who rushed her to the hospital, said they were certain she was shot and the video showing her apparently falling after the gunman fired appeared to bolster that claim. She was buried Friday without an autopsy.
The government, citing a report from doctors at the hospital where she died, said she was not hit by bullets but killed when the concussive force of the blast slammed her head into a lever on the vehicle's sunroof.
However, a copy of the medical report sent to reporters said the doctors had made no determination about whether she was shot or not. It gave the cause of death as "open head injury with depressed skull fracture, leading to cardiopulmonary arrest."
The report, signed by seven doctors at the hospital, said Bhutto's head wound was 5 by 3 centimeter (2 by 1.2 inches). No surrounding wounds or blackening were seen. "No foreign body was felt in the wound. Wound was not further explored," it said.
The report was released by prominent opposition lawyer Athar Minallah, who is a member of the board that oversees Rawalpindi General Hospital. He said that the doctors had called for an autopsy to definitively determine the cause of death, but Aziz, the police chief, refused.
"The wound might appear to be a bullet wound, but without an autopsy no doctor would ever be able to give a conclusive opinion that it was or it wasn't a bullet wound," Minallah said. "Without an autopsy there can be no investigation at all."
Aziz denied that he refused to authorize an autopsy.
"I have not told anyone about stopping the post mortem," he said. "It is a legal requirement, but again it is dependent upon the legal heirs of the deceased."
In a news conference Sunday, Bhutto's widowed husband, Asif Ali Zardari, confirmed that he had refused to allow an autopsy, saying he did not trust Musharraf's government to carry out a credible investigation. He also rejected the government's account about his wife's death as "lies."
Cheema said Bhutto's family was free to exhume her body.
The dispute undermined already shaky confidence in Musharraf, a former army chief who seized power here in a 1999 coup. Zardari, who now leads Bhutto's party, demanded a U.N. probe similar to the one investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Even before her assassination, the security around Bhutto was inconsistent. A reporter was able to walk into a recent rally in Nawab Shah in her southern Sindh province days before she was killed without being frisked or passing through a metal detector. Her supporters pressed up against the stage, just feet from where she was speaking.
Bhutto herself took risks. She declined to wear a bulletproof vest, and during her 10-hour, slow moving procession through the streets of Karachi on Oct. 18, she refused to use a bulletproof glass cubicle that had been built atop her truck, standing instead along a railing to greet the massive crowds.
"She was a political leader. Meeting the people was something she could not avoid," Minallah said.
Anne Tyrell, a spokeswoman for the private security firm Blackwater, said it had been approached about possibly providing security for Bhutto, "but unfortunately, an agreement was never reached."
Durrani, who helped arrange Bhutto's security, said foreign guards would have been little help as they could not distinguish easily between local people. He said the party had used its own armed guards to boost Bhutto's protection.
Musharraf himself survived two assassination attempts in December 2003. Afterward, security was tightened for top officials, and roads are sealed off when Musharraf or the prime minister are on the move.
But security protection for others is spotty.
Just days before Bhutto's killing, former Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao narrowly survived a suicide bombing in a mosque at his compound that killed 56 worshippers _ the second such attack against him in eight months.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif _ who the government said was also under threat _ complained Monday that security arrangements for him were "absolutely inadequate."
On a recent campaign trip to Kashmir, Sharif was trailed by a single police van as he rode in an apparently unarmored sports utility vehicle. At one point, he stuck his head out of the sunroof and greeted hundreds of party supporters, much like Bhutto was to do weeks later.
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Associated Press reporter Zarar Khan contributed to this story from Naudero, Pakistan.


Updated : 2021-05-18 00:43 GMT+08:00