ISLAMABAD, Dec 28: The government on Friday came up with a new script of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, claiming that she was attacked by Al Qaeda and had died due to injury by an iron lock of her vehicle’s sunroof, not by the shooting of a suicide bomber.

“We have tapped a telephonic conversation of Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, with a Maulana in which they congratulated each other on the killing of Ms Bhutto,” Inteiror Ministry spokesman Brig (retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema said in a press conference.

In reply to a question why intelligence agencies had been unable to trace the Al Qaeda leader when they could tap his telephonic conversations, Mr Cheema said that Mehsud was always on the move, making it very difficult to find him.

He said Ms Bhutto was on the hit list of Al Qaeda and that she had been receiving death threats from the group since her return in October.

He said Baitullah Mehsud was also involved in the suicide attack on Ms Bhutto in Karachi on Oct 18 and she had been informed about this.

The spokesman showed to the media a video film capturing the PPP chief waving to the crowd from the sunroof of her car after leaving the venue of the public meeting at the Liaquat Bagh on Thursday.

The film showed a man firing three shots from a pistol or a revolver on Ms Bhutto, from a distance of hardly three metrest.

A PPP spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, rejected the government’s claim and said it wanted to change the “direction” of the investigation.

He called for an independent inquiry into the assassination by international experts.

“Had the government accepted our demand of conducting an inquiry into Karachi’s Oct 18 blast by international experts, this incident would not have happened,” he said.

Mr Babar said that Ms Bhutto had received two bullets and was pronounced dead by doctors 15 minutes after she was shifted to a hospital. “Doctors of the hospital confirmed that she had died of bullet wounds.”

A medical report issued on Thursday by a panel of doctors, headed by Prof Mussaddiq Khan, the principal of the Rawalpindi Medical College, had confirmed that Ms Bhutto had sustained an injury on her neck. But the interior ministry spokesman provided another medical report which said she had a wound measuring 5x3 centimetres above the pinna of her right ear and there was a big boggy swelling around the wound.

According to an earlier report, Ms Bhutto had received injury on her left side while interior ministry spokesman was of the view that she got the injury on the right side.

“As she was waving to her supporters and workers from the sunroof of the vehicle when the firing started followed by a suicide bombing which took place at the left side of the vehicle, but she received injury on the right side which confirms that she was not killed by the bullet injury,” Mr Cheema said.

He said when the firing started, she tried to duck and in the effort, her head hit against the lever of the sunroof which caused her death.

The spokesman said it was probable more than one man were involved in the attack.

Outlining the security arrangements for Ms Bhutto’s procession, Mr Cheema said that walk-through gates had been installed at entry and exit points and scanners used for detecting metal or explosive material.

He said a bullet-proof rostrum had also been built at the Liaquat Bagh to ensure her security.

The spokesman provided a photograph of the head of the alleged suicide bomber and claimed that he had not been identified so far.

He said that after forensic investigation, the bomber’s identity would be determined, adding that the head of the Punjab Police was assisting in the forensic investigation.

In reply to a question, he said some other leaders, including Mr Nawaz Sharif, Maulana Fazlur ur Rehman, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao were on the hit list of the Al Qaeda network.

About the law and order situation, he appreciated the PPP leadership’s role in claming down the situation, but said some criminals had tried to create lawlessness by taking advantage of the tragic incident, but law-enforcement agencies had foiled their attempts.

He said the army had been deployed in some parts of Sindh on the request of the provincial government.

In reply to a question about a post-mortem of Ms Benazir Bhutto, Mr Cheema said her external post-mortem had been conducted by doctors, but her husband Asif Ali Zardari had requested the government not to undertake a complete post-mortem.

Updated Dec 29, 2007 12:00am

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