RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack after a rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, her party said.
“She has been martyred,” said party official Rehman Malik.
Bhutto, 54, died in hospital in Rawalpindi. Ary-One Television said she had been shot in the head.
Police said a suicide bomber fired shots at Bhutto as she was leaving the rally venue in a park before blowing himself up.
“The man first fired at Bhutto’s vehicle. She ducked and then he blew himself up,” said police officer Mohammad Shahid.
Police said 16 people had been killed in the blast.
“It is the act of those who want to disintegrate Pakistan because she was symbol of unity. They have finished the Bhutto family. They are enemies of Pakistan,” senior Bhutto party official Farzana Raja told Reuters.
A Reuters witness at the scene of the attack said he had heard two shots moments before the blast. Another Reuters witness saw bodies and a mutilated human head strewn on a road outside the park where she held her rally.
A spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf said he had to confirm the news before commenting.
Earlier, party officials had said Bhutto was safe.
A suicide bomber killed nearly 150 people in an attack on Bhutto on October 19 as she paraded through the southern city of Karachi on her return from eight years in self-imposed exile.
Islamist militants were blamed for that attack but Bhutto had said she was prepared to face the danger to help the country.
People cried and hugged each other outside the hospital where she died and residents of Karachi, Bhutto’s home town, said they had heard gun shots after news of Bhutto’s death spread, apparently from her enraged supporters.
Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime mister. He was executed in 1979 after being deposed in a military coup.
Bhutto became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world when she was elected in 1988 at the age of 35. She was deposed in 1990, re-elected in 1993, and ousted again in 1996 amid charges of corruption and mismanagement.
She said the charges were politically motivated but in 1999 chose to stay in exile rather than face them.
Bhutto’s family is no stranger to violence.
Both of her brothers died in mysterious circumstances and she had said al Qaeda assassins tried to kill her several times in the 1990s.
Intelligence reports have said al Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistani jihadi groups have sent suicide bombers after her.
Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; editing by Roger Crabb