AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan ClarksonA deeply polarizing figure, Bhutto spent 30 years navigating the turbulent and often violent world of Pakistani politics, becoming in 1988 the first woman to lead a modern Muslim country. She had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt upon her return to Pakistan two months ago. Her death now presents President Pervez Musharraf with one of the most potent crises of his turbulent eight years in power, and Bush administration officials with a new challenge in their efforts to stabilize a front-line state – home to both al-Qaida and nuclear arms – in their fight against terrorism. Hallmarks of al-Qaida The attack bore hallmarks of the al-Qaida-linked militants in Pakistan. But witnesses described a sniper firing from a nearby building, raising questions about how well the government had protected her in a usually well-guarded garrison town and fueling speculation that government sympathizers had played a part. On Thursday evening, officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to local law enforcement agencies informing them about posts on some Islamic Web sites saying that al-Qaida was claiming responsibility for the attack, and that the plot was orchestrated by Ayman al-Zawahri, the group’s second-ranking official. One counterterrorism official in Washington said the bulletin neither confirmed nor discredited these claims. The official said American intelligence agencies had yet to come to any firm judgments about who was responsible for Bhutto’s death. RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani opposition leader and twice-serving prime minister, was assassinated Thursday evening as she left a political rally here, a scene of fiery carnage that plunged Pakistan deeper into political turmoil and ignited widespread violence by her enraged supporters. Bhutto, 54, was shot in the neck or head, according to differing accounts, as she stood in the open sunroof of a car and waved to crowds. Seconds later a suicide attacker detonated his bomb, damaging one of the cars in her motorcade, killing more than 20 people and wounding 50, the Interior Ministry said. News of her death sent angry protesters swarming the emergency ward of the nearby hospital, where doctors declared Bhutto dead at 6:16 p.m. Supporters later jostled to carry her bare wooden coffin as it began its journey to her hometown of Larkana, in southern Pakistan, for burial. In Karachi and other cities, frenzied crowds vented their rage, blocking the streets, burning tires and throwing stones. The death of Bhutto, leader of Pakistan’s largest political party, throws Pakistan’s politics into disarray less than two weeks before parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8 and just weeks after a state of emergency was lifted. There was immediate speculation that elections would be postponed and another state of emergency declared. As world leaders lined up to express outrage at the killing of arguably Pakistan’s most pro-Western political figure, a grim-faced President Bush said the best way to honor her would be “by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.” Speaking to reporters while vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush blamed Bhutto’s death on “murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy.” He telephoned Musharraf on Thursday afternoon. Musharraf went on national television Thursday evening, describing the killing as “a great national tragedy” and announcing a three-day national mourning. He called it a terrorist attack and vowed to continue to fight to root out the terrorists. “I appeal to the nation to remain peaceful and show restraint,” he said. Despite the president’s appeal, politicians and government officials said they feared more violence in the coming days from those protesting her death, but also from militants who would try to take advantage of the uncertain situation. One former government minister said the backlash against Musharraf could make his position untenable. “Musharraf will not be able to control the situation now,” he said. Before her return in October, Bhutto had spent nearly eight years in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges stemming from her time as prime minister in the 1990s. Her return had been promoted by Washington as part of an agreement to share power with Musharraf and rescue his increasingly unpopular government by giving it a more democratic face. Leading contender She was a leading contender for prime minister in the Jan. 8 elections, campaigning as an advocate for Pakistan’s return to party politics after eight years of military rule under Musharraf, who relinquished his military post only this month. She also presented herself as the candidate who could best combat growing militancy in Pakistan. Her comments condemning militancy and suicide bombing had made her a target of al-Qaida-linked militants in Pakistan. Her homecoming procession in Karachi was attacked by two bomb blasts that killed 150 supporters and narrowly missed killing her. Much of the rage over her death is nonetheless likely to be directed at Musharraf, who kept her out of power for more than eight years. The country’s other main opposition leader, another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, announced Thursday evening that he was pulling his party out of the elections. “This is a tragedy for her party, and a tragedy for our party and the entire nation,” Sharif said as he visited the hospital on hearing the news of her death. Elections likely postponed Tauqir Zia, a retired general who recently joined Bhutto’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party, said it seemed that elections were unlikely to go ahead now in any case. “PPP is now in turmoil for the time being,” he said. “It has to find a new leadership.” Other officials and politicians said they, too, thought elections would have to be postponed. “This is going to lead to chaos and turmoil,” said the former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who was nearly killed five days ago in a suicide bombing at a mosque in his home village. There were differing accounts of the attack. Zamrud Khan, a member of her party, said Bhutto was shot in the head from gunfire that originated from behind her car in a building nearby. Seconds later a suicide bomber detonated his bomb, damaging one of the cars in her motorcade and killing some 15 people on the ground, Khan said. The Interior Ministry spokesman quoted by the state news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan, said the suicide bomber first fired on Bhutto and then blew himself up. Amid the confusion after the explosion, the site was littered with pools of blood. Shoes and caps of party workers were lying on the asphalt. More than a dozen ambulances pushed through crowds of dazed and wounded people at the scene. Witnesses described hearing firing barely a minute before the loud explosion. Sajid Hussain, who had a shrapnel wound on his left hand, said he heard at least three shots fired. “Then there was a big explosion, the earth seemed to tremble, I fell down. And everything was covered in black smoke.” Dr. Mohamed Mussadik, a top surgeon who attended to Bhutto at the hospital, said she was clinically dead on arrival and that the bullet wound was in the head, according to Athar Minallah, a lawyer who served in the Musharraf government but who has since helped lead the movement against him. Apparently no autopsy was done, because police did not request one, Dawn TV reported. Lawyers calling for an international neutral investigation are raising questions about the speed with which Bhutto’s body was moved. The body arrived in her southern home province of Sindh before dawn, party officials told Agence-France Presse.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!