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KARACHI, Dec 29: The controversy over the manner in which former prime minister Benazir Bhutto died in a Dec 27 attack in Rawalpindi deepened on Saturday night when DawnNews TV aired chilling images of an armed assassin taking a shot at her as she acknowledged the cheers of jubilant party activists from the sunroof of her bullet-proof vehicle.

The government has insisted that Ms Bhutto died when her head slammed against her vehicle by the blast from a bomb. But the Pakistan People’s Party has held that she died from bullet wounds.

Shot by an amateur photographer, the images telecast by DawnNews TV make it abundantly clear that there was no security cordon around Ms Bhutto’s vehicle.

They show a young clean-shaven man, wearing a waistcoat and dark glasses, inch inconspicuously towards the slow-moving vehicle of Ms Bhutto. Standing closely behind is a man believed to be the suicide bomber with a piece of cloth draped around his face. The first image catches the duo looking straight into the camera.

Another image shows the sharpshooter open fire on the unsuspecting political leader with remarkable aplomb. He is just a couple of metres away from his target. One of the party activists clinging to the vehicle seems to have spotted the assassin, whose upraised hand carries a gun.

The third image shows activists around the vehicle ducking their heads in reflex, suggesting that the gun has been fired. Unfazed, the assassin is still in their midst.

Crucially, Ms Bhutto has disappeared from the sunroof. And, equally crucially, the suicide bomber has yet to blow himself up.

The unsettling images raise significant questions about the quality of security arrangements made for the former prime minister who narrowly escaped a suicide attack on her homecoming procession on Oct 18.

The fact that an armed assassin managed to get just a couple of metres away from Ms Bhutto clearly gives the lie to the government claim that she had received a VIP security cover.

Also, the new images seem to lend credence to the assertion made by a close aide of Ms Bhutto who insisted that the opposition leader was shot in the head and neck.

According to the Reuters news agency, Sherry Rehman, a PPP spokesperson, said: “She has a bullet wound at the back of her head on the left side. It came out the other (side). That was a very large wound, and she bled profusely through that.”

Ms Rehman prepared the slain leader’s body for burial.

“She was even bleeding while we were bathing her for the burial. The government is now trying to say she concussed herself, which is ludicrous. It is really dangerous nonsense.”

However, the government stuck to its version, saying Ms Bhutto’s party was welcome to exhume her corpse to check.