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Pakistan says al Qaeda behind Bhutto killing

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has “intelligence intercepts” indicating that al Qaeda was behind the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

People hold candles during a prayer meeting held to mourn the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, in Hyderabad December 28, 2007. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

Former prime minister Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, plunging nuclear-armed Pakistan into one of the most serious crises in its 60-year history.

“We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination,” ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told a news conference.

Mehsud is one of Pakistan’s most wanted militant leaders and is based in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border.

Cheema said authorities had recorded an intercept on Friday morning in which Mehsud had congratulated his people for carrying out the attack.

He also said Mehsud was behind a suicide bomb attack on Bhutto in Karachi that killed about 140 people hours after she arrived back in the country from eight years of exile on Oct. 18.

Cheema also said Bhutto had not been shot, nor had she been hit by shrapnel from the blast but she had been killed when the force of the explosion crashed her head against a lever on the sun-roof of her vehicle.

The bomber struck when Bhutto was leaving the rally and she stood up out of her bullet-proof vehicle’s sun-roof to wave to supporters just outside the venue.

Three shots were fired and the blast then went off as Bhutto was ducking back inside the car. The impact of her head on the sun-roof lever fractured her skull and killed her, he said.

Two security officials said earlier on Friday Bhutto had been shot in the head and neck.

“There was no bullet that hit her .... there was no splinter that hit her,” Cheema said.

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