Benazir Bhutto 'left to mercy of assassins by security chief'
|Published on 04-16-2010|
The former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was left to the mercy of her assassins by her security chief who abandoned her in the minutes before her death, a key witness has told the United Nations inquiry into her death.
Chaudhry Mohummad Aslam, one of Ms Bhutto's protocol officers who was guarding her vehicle when she was shot, said that Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik and current law minister Babar Awan were to blame for security lapses which allowed her killers to strike.
Ms Bhutto was killed on December 27, 2007 as she left an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi's Liaqat Bagh. She was standing through the sunroof of her Pajero jeep waving to supporters as she left the venue when she was shot through the head by a marksman. She slumped down into the car and died in the arms of her political secretary Naheed Khan. An explosion which followed the gunfire left more than 20 people dead.
Her death convulsed Pakistan and provoked a series of claims that establishment figures, including then president General Musharraf, one of his intelligence chiefs and Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi were part of a conspiracy to kill her. All have denied the claims.
But according to Mr Aslam, who was himself wounded in the bomb blast, Ms Bhutto's killers were able to get close to her because of the sudden departure of Mr Malik and Mr Awan in a private Mercedes reserved as an alternative car for Ms Bhutto.
The United Nations was on Thursday night due to release a report into the circumstances surrounding Ms Bhutto's assassination and sources close to the investigation have said it is expected to highlight a series of security failings.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Aslam said there was a car was in front of Ms Bhutto's Pajero as she prepared to leave, and that the two ministers commandeered it in breach of protocol rules and ordered the driver to speed to the home of her husband Asif Zardari, now the country's president.
When the police and private security teams saw the car speed away, they followed quickly behind, he said, leaving Ms Bhutto with no security protection.
"Rehman Malik and Babar Awan forced the driver of the Mercedes to leave immediately. When the [motorbike] pilot saw the car was going at full speed, he drove his bike to lead them. The police security squad and private security also followed them. When the Mitsubishi Pajero in which Benazir Bhutto was sitting came out of the gate there was no police, no private security, nothing was there the security thought she was in the Mercedes," he said.
Mr Aslam said he saw laser beams flash past his party leader's car and that she slumped down inside the car as the sound of bullets flew around. An explosion followed the shots, leaving 35 people dead, he said.
He had been just in front of Ms Bhutto's car when a bomb exploded a few metres away. He was seen in television footage at the time sitting bewildered among dead colleagues and stray shoes with an open leg wound.
Fauzia Wahab, the Pakistan Peoples Party's information secretary and a close aide of President Asif Zardari, confirmed that Mr Malik and Mr Awan had left Ms Bhutto behind in Liaqat Bagh. "Once she [Ms Bhutto] was down [from the stage], they grabbed the car and rushed to Mr Zardari's house to welcome her," she said.
She said on the night before the rally, Ms Bhutto had been visited at her residence by the head of the ISI intelligence agency to warn her there was a threat to her life and that she should cancel the meeting in Liaqat Bagh. It is not clear whether Mr Malik, as her head of security, was aware of the threat when he left Ms Bhutto's convoy.
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