Report: Head Injury Killed Bhutto

Scotland Yard's conclusion that Benazir Bhutto died from a "rapidly fatal head injury" may not quiet Bhutto supporters who still believe she was slain by an assassin's bullets. Extracts of the Yard's report were made public here in Pakistan by the British High Commission on Friday.

"The only tenable cause for the rapidly fatal head injury in this case is that it occurred as the result of impact due to the effects of the bomb blast," U.K. Home Office pathologist Dr. Nathaniel Cary states in the report. "In my opinion Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto died as a result of a severe head injury sustained as a consequence of the bomb blast and due to head impact somewhere in the escape hatch of the vehicle." The report, ruling out the possibility of gunshot injuries, states that Bhutto's "only apparent injury" was "a major trauma to the right side of the head."

The report says that while "the lack of an extended and detailed search of the crime scene, the absence of an autopsy, and the absence of recognized body recovery and victim identification processes" complicated the Yard's task, available evidence was "sufficient for reliable conclusions to be drawn." The Yard's report says that while Bhutto's "exact head position at the time of the detonation can never be ascertained, the overwhelming conclusion must be that she did not succeed in getting her head entirely below the lip of the escape hatch when the explosion occurred."

The Yard's findings were also announced at a midday press conference by Pakistani police official Abdul Majeed in Rawalpindi. "This is the categorical and definite opinion of an independent investigation," he said. Majeed categorized the two men arrested on Thursday in connection with the assassination as facilitators and said Pakistani investigations into the assassination were ongoing. "We are absolutely independently and on merit investigating the case," he said. "And honestly, as well."

While Bhutto's family and party officials cooperated with the Yard's investigation, according to the report, its conclusion contradicts the accounts of party officials who were riding with Bhutto in her vehicle on Dec. 27 when her convoy was attacked outside an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

"We heard three or four shots first, and [Bhutto] fell into the car," says Sen. Safdar Abbasi, whose wife, Naheed Khan, was Bhutto's political secretary. "Her head was in Naheed's lap and her feet were pointed toward Makhdoom [Amin Fahim, vice chairman of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party]," Abbasi told NEWSWEEK. Abbasi was seated behind Bhutto, Khan and Fahim in the car. "We were trying to wake her up when he noticed blood dripping into Naheed's lap. Naheed cradled [Bhutto's] head and screamed that a part of the skull was not there," said Abbasi. "That's when the explosion happened."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has been accused of not doing enough to protect Bhutto, ceded to calls for an independent inquiry and announced Scotland Yard's engagement in a televised address on Jan. 2. Since then he has attributed the swift hosing down of the crime scene within an hour of the attack to incompetence, blamed tribal militant Baitullah Mehsud for sponsoring the assassination, and blamed Bhutto for not heeding security warnings and standing through the sunroof of her SUV.

But the Yard's report has been greeted with skepticism by Bhutto's party and may not provide much of a reprieve for Musharraf, whose political fate rests on the upcoming Feb. 18 elections, in which Bhutto's party is considered the front runner. "We haven't rejected [the Scotland Yard report] out of hand," Sherry Rehman, spokeswoman for the PPP, told NEWSWEEK on Friday. "We still say that the cause of death is a bullet injury." Supporting the U.S. Senate resolution introduced by Sen. Joseph Biden on Feb. 7, she said the party would renew calls for an international inquiry under the auspices of the United Nations into the "hidden hand that lay behind this assassination, into the financiers, sponsors, perpetrators, organizers of this heinous crime."

Jugnu Mohsin, the publisher of Pakistan's influential Friday Times, feels Pakistanis will view the Yard's report with "utter disbelief." She told NEWSWEEK that it could strengthen the suspicions of the "uninformed" about international involvement in the assassination. "Given the testimony of the people riding in the car with her and the video footage, I can't get my mind around [the Yard's conclusion]," she said. "Benazir died on Musharraf's watch. That's the bottom line."