Saturday, December 29, 2007

Islamist Group Denies Killing Bhutto (Updated)

By Cernig

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might say. It was obvious from word one that the Pakistani government's blaming Baitullah Mehsud for Bhutto's death while calling him an Al Qaeda leader was problemmatic. For one thing, Mehsud's always been more of a Taliban type than an AQ honcho - which is why Musharraf pardoned him in a deal with the Taliban back in 2005. The Interior Ministry's claim yesterday that Mehsud's group is "behind most of the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place in Pakistan," is also patently ludicrous given relatively humble Mehsud's status as one of several local Taliban affiliated commanders in South Waziristan and the plethora of terrorist groups Pakistan finds itself host to.

Then there's the alleged telephone intercept released to bolster the government's claim. In it, they say, Mehsud talks to one of his henchmen about the attack. The problem is the henchman's name - Maulvi Sahib - isn't even a real name. The last part is just an honorific and the first refers to someone who leads Friday prayers. The house where Mehsud supposedly is staying is that of someone called Anwar Shah - which has to be one of the most common names in Pakistan. Even Mushie's own Assistant Political Agent for South Waziristan is called that! And "Maulvi Sahib" nowhere actually refers to Baitullah Mehsud by name - he calls the person he is talking to "Emir" (Chief) throughout. Pretty damn flimsy proof.

Unsurprisingly, Mehsud has denied responsibility, just as he did when blame was pinned on him for the last attempt on Bhutto's life back in October.
Alleged Al-Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud denied any involvement in Benazir Bhutto's death after the Pakistan government blamed him for the killing, his spokesman told AFP on Saturday.

"He had no involvement in this attack," spokesman Maulana Omar said in a telephone call. "This is a conspiracy of the government, army and intelligence agencies."

The spokesman said he was calling from Pakistan's Waziristan area, a lawless tribal region where Pakistani government forces have been battling Islamist militants. "It is against tribal tradition and custom to attack a woman," Omar said.

He said the transcript released by the government, allegedly of a phone call between Mehsud and a militant discussing Bhutto's death after the fact, was a "drama" and expressed sadness over her assassination on Thursday.

He said it would have been "impossible" for militants to get through the security cordon around the campaign rally where she was killed.

"Benazir was not only a leader of Pakistan but also a leader of international fame. We express our deep grief and shock over her death," Omar said.
FOXNews adds that Mehsud had contact with Bhutto through intermediaries:
"We strongly deny it. Baitullah Mehsud is not involved in the killing of Benazir Bhutto," he said in a telephone call he made to The Associated Press from the tribal region of South Waziristan.

"The fact is that we are only against America, and we don't consider political leaders of Pakistan our enemy," he said, adding that he was speaking on instructions from Mehsud.

Mehsud heads Tehrik-i-Taliban, a newly formed coalition of Islamic militants committed to waging holy war against the government, which is a key U.S. ally in its war on terror.

Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party accused the government of trying to frame Mehsud, saying the militant — through emissaries — had previously told Bhutto he was not involved in the Karachi bombing.

"The story that al-Qaida or Baitullah Mehsud did it appears to us to be a planted story, an incorrect story, because they want to divert the attention," said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto's party.

After the Karachi attack, Bhutto accused elements in the ruling pro-Musharraf party of plotting to kill her. The government denied the claims. Babar said Bhutto's allegations were never investigated.
When asked about Mehsud's denial, goverment spokesman Brigadier Cheema said: "We have the evidence that he is involved. Why should he accept that he has done it? It does not suit him. I don't think anybody has the capability to carry out such suicide attacks except for those people." If he truly thinks that, he must be the only one. There are plenty of other possible suspects.

But if the government's finger of blame is suspect, then so too is its account of how Bhutto died.
On Thursday, hours after Bhutto's death, the Pakistani Interior Ministry said she died from a gunshot wound to the neck, with the gunman firing as Bhutto stood through the open sunroof of her vehicle while leaving a rally in Rawalpindi. The gunman then blew himself up, killing 23 others as well, officials said.

Video of the incident shows a man shooting a handgun three times toward Bhutto's car before the blast. The account was consistent with statements to The Associated Press from doctors who pronounced Bhutto dead at a hospital. Watch three shots and a blast

But on Friday, the Interior Ministry said Bhutto was killed by shrapnel from the explosion. Then, hours later, the ministry said she died from a skull fracture suffered when she either fell or ducked into the car as a result of the shots or the explosion and crashed her head into a sunroof latch. Watch the government account of how Bhutto died

"The government comes up with the most bizarre, dangerous nonsense and it indicates that they are abdicating themselves of all responsibility by saying that she may have knocked her head or concussed her head against one of the levers on the sunroof," [Sherry Rehman, Pakistan People's Party information secretary said.
Reham recounted her own eyewitness version:
Rehman -- who had been riding in the car behind Bhutto's when it was attacked -- called the government's conclusion that Bhutto was not shot "the most bizarre, dangerous nonsense."

"It's beginning to look like a cover-up to me," Rehman said in a CNN interview.

Rehman said Bhutto was hemorrhaging on the way to the hospital and that the two cars used to get her there were blood-soaked.

"There were clear bullet injuries to her head," said Rehman. "When we bathed her we saw that."
One McClatchy journalist who was an eyewitness backed up the PPP's account and also reported police officers leaving their posts just before shots rang out.
Three to five shots were fired at her, witnesses said. She was hit in the neck and slumped back in the vehicle. Blood poured from her head, and she never regained consciousness. Moments after the shooting, there was a huge explosion to the left of the vehicle.

Witnesses said that Bhutto's bodyguards pounced on the assassin, who then blew himself up, shredding those around him. Ambulance crews collected pieces of flesh from the scene. The road turned red with pools of blood.

I was standing near the rally stage, about 30 to 40 yards away from the scene of the shooting. There was pandemonium. On hearing the shots, I started running toward the scene. Then came the explosion. I ran back a bit. I didn't see the killer, and by the time I got to the gates, Bhutto's SUV was driving to a Rawalpindi hospital. She didn't have a chance.

...Police officers had frisked the 3,000 to 4,000 people attending Thursday's rally when they entered the park, but as the speakers from Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party droned on, the police abandoned many of their posts. As she drove out through the gate, her main protection appeared to be her own bodyguards, who wore their usual white T-shirts inscribed: "Willing to die for Benazir."
That's just one of the security lapses the PPP are pointing to - along with government refusal to provide escort cars or bomb jamming equipment and refusal to allow international investigators to look into the last attempt on Bhutto's life. The Pakistani government has denied all charges of negligence or complicity and said the PPP can dig up Bhutto's body if it wants a postmortem (something the government expects ignorant Westerners not to know is haraam or "forbidden by God").

So what are we to believe? That the government is right and that Mehsud, the PPP, Bhutto herself - she wrote well prior to her death that she feared Musharraf's henchmen - and eyewitnesses are all wrong? Or that the government of pakistan is lying through it's teeth?

I'm not sure that Musharraf personally said "someone kill her" although that's still a strong possibility. I think it was more along the lines of "will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?" But the sponsorship links between the ISI and the various AQ/Taliban franchises and copycats are so numerous and well documented I find it difficult to believe Musharraf couldn't control the ISI and thus the various groups if he wanted to. The idea that he's the puppet of the military/ISI in the shadows is nonsense. He's always been the ringleader of the military coup since he arranged to depose Sharif. I'm reminded of the Bush spin on Iran and the "special forces" in Iraq - which is worse, that the leadership is controlling it's agents actions or that it isn't?

But the Pakistani authorities have again refused to allow international experts anywhere near the site of Bhutto's death or any of the evidence associated with their claims and satements.

Update Pakistan's Daily Times has a headline and a half: Report silent on what hit Benazir’s head.
The seven-member medical team that examined former premier Benazir Bhutto at Rawalpindi General Hospital on December 27, submitted its report to the Interior Ministry, making no mention of what exactly hit the head of the former prime minister.

A 3-page medical report, a copy of which is available with Daily Times, stated that an open-head injury with depressed skull fracture caused a cardiopulmonary arrest. The Interior Ministry had claimed that Benazir suffered a head injury after hitting the lever of her vehicle’s sunroof. The report read, “Benazir was pulse-less and was not breathing when she was brought to the hospital. Her pupils were fixed dilated and non-reacting to light. A wound was present on the right temporo-parietal region through which blood was trickling down and a whitish material, which looked like brain matter was visible in the wound.”It said that cardiopulmonary resuscitation was given as soon as Benazir was brought to the hospital.
So wtf? Did the Interior Ministry just make up the bit about the sunroof lever? If so, as several people have already pointed out, it was to try to make Bhutto's death look more accidental and thus reduce the chances of this flawed women in life becoming a faultless martyr in death.

Moreover, amateur photographs and video shot at the scene clearly show an identifiable gunman aiming at Bhutto and firing, while witness statements are extremely consistent in saying she was shot.

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