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Bhutto Assassination Sparks Violence in Pakistan

Washington Post reporter Griff Witte on All Things Considered

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Bhutto's friend and consultant Mark Siegel on All Things Considered

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Attack witness Farah Ispahani, member of Bhutto's media team, on 'The Bryant Park Project'

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Updates from Pakistan

Read the latest developments in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto waves from her car just seconds before being attacked Thursday in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. John Moore/Getty Images hide caption

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John Moore/Getty Images

Bhutto Campaigned Despite Risk of Attack

Benazir Bhutto had been warned by President Pervez Musharraf and others not to campaign so publicly, but she remained defiant. "I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger," she said Thursday. Read more about security at the rally and details of the attack.

Bhutto: A Brief Bio

  • Born June 21, 1953, into a wealthy landowning family in southern Pakistan
  • Daughter of a former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1979 after being deposed in a military coup
  • Studied politics and government
  • Two-time prime minister
  • Left country in 1999 to avoid corruption charges
  • Eight years of self-imposed exile
  • Recent return was targeted by suicide bombing that killed more than 140 people
  • First woman to lead a modern Muslim nation
  • Hoped to lead pro-Western, democratic government against Islamic militants
  • Had talked with President Musharraf of a possible power-sharing deal
  • Brother Murtaza died in a gunbattle with police in Karachi in 1996
  • Youngest brother, Shahnawaz, died under mysterious circumstances in France a decade earlier

— from The Associated Press

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is seen with Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a meeting at an Islamabad hotel, Dec. 27. Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images

A History of Violence

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's death at the hands of an assassin is a tragic event but not a completely unexpected one. Life for Pakistani politicians is fraught with danger, and has been since its founding. Read on.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, President Pervez Musharraf's most powerful opponent, has thrown Pakistan into chaos just 12 days before elections.

Bhutto died after gunfire and a suicide bomb attack targeted her at a campaign rally outside the Pakistani capital on Thursday. As news of her death spread, angry supporters poured onto streets in several cities, burning tires and vehicles. The violence killed at least nine people and plunged efforts to restore democracy to the nuclear-armed U.S. ally into turmoil.

Bhutto gave a political speech Thursday in Rawalpindi to thousands of supporters in her campaign for the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. She was shot in the neck and chest as she stood in the sunroof of her vehicle to greet supporters while leaving the rally. A suicide bomber then blew himself up, killing 20 other people, witnesses said.

"Ms. Bhutto came back from a very comfortable life abroad. She came back to fight these forces of extremism," said a tearful and distraught Farah Ispahani, part of Bhutto's political team. "She came back for this country. She was a real daughter of the soil of Pakistan."

"I hope she's remembered as the greatest daughter this country has ever produced and the first woman prime minister ever elected in the Muslim world," Ispahani said through tears.

At the scene of the attack, the road was stained with blood and people screamed for ambulances. Others gave water to the wounded lying in the street, witnesses said.

Immediately after Bhutto was declared dead, supporters went on a rampage, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and chanted slogans against her political rival, President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf, who announced three days of mourning, urged calm.

"I want to appeal to the nation to remain peaceful and exercise restraint," he said.

Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister and leader of a rival opposition party, demanded Musharraf resign immediately and announced that his party would boycott the upcoming election, leading to speculation that the polls could be delayed or called off altogether.

Bhutto twice served as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996.

A suicide bomb exploded at a Bhutto rally on Oct. 18, after she returned to Pakistan after eight years in exile. More than 140 people were killed in that attack. Since her homecoming, Bhutto frequently had acknowledged the danger she faced.

At Thursday's rally, she reiterated those concerns.

"I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis," Bhutto said.

Following Thursday's attack, Bhutto's supporters at the hospital began chanting "Dog, Musharraf, dog," referring to her rival.

No one claimed responsibility for the assassination, but suspicion was likely to fall on resurgent Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban, who hated Bhutto for her close ties to the United States and support for the war on terrorism.

Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser, said she was inside her vehicle at the time of the attack.

"Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle from the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away," he said.

Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery. She died about an hour after the attack.

President Bush offered his condolences to Bhutto's family and friends.

"We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto's memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life," he said.

For months, the United States has been encouraging Musharraf to reach some kind of political accommodation with his opponents, particularly Bhutto.

Musharraf convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the election, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press