RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AFP) – British anti-terrorism police are expected to begin examining evidence connected to the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, officials said.
The Scotland Yard team is meeting senior Pakistani police and has been briefed on what they know about the slaying of the two-time prime minister in a gun and suicide bomb attack here last week, officials said.
Over the coming days they were expected to visit the scene of the attack, which the government has blamed on Al-Qaeda, and examine potentially crucial pieces of evidence such as the car Bhutto was in when she was killed.
But the five-man squad’s arrival on Friday has only deepened the conspiracy theories swirling around the attack, which sparked an outburst of violent unrest across nuclear-armed Pakistan and set crucial elections back six weeks.
Bhutto’s party faithful insist the authorities know more than they are saying about the murder of the head of Pakistan’s most powerful political dynasty, and the most potent critic of the military-led government.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) officials said the Scotland Yard mission, here at the invitation of President Pervez Musharraf, is a “meaningless” attempt to lend credibility to a deeply flawed official version of events.
“Musharraf has himself said the Scotland Yard team would not be allowed to question those we have suspected. So he has already circumscribed their role,” PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP.
“We have respect for Scotland Yard but this is inadequate.”
Musharraf bristled Thursday when asked whether the Britons would be allowed to question politicians and an intelligence chief whom Bhutto had accused of plotting to kill her, saying there would be no “wild goose chase.”
The first female leader of a Muslim nation had survived an earlier suicide bombing on the day she returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile in October, and had publicly accused powerful officials of planning her murder.
Bhutto’s party has complained that the crime scene from last Thursday’s attack was washed clean shortly after her murder, destroying vital evidence, a move Musharraf acknowledged later “should not have been done.”
But the president has denied that Pakistan’s powerful secret intelligence agencies were involved in the killing, or that the government effectively allowed Islamist fanatics to kill her by failing to ensure her security.
Pakistan’s interior ministry has blamed the attack on an alleged Al-Qaeda militant and says she died from an accidental head wound sustained in the act of ducking for cover as a gunman opened fire on her motorcade.
Bhutto’s aides who were by her side during the December 27 attack say she died from a gunshot to the head. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, refused to allow an autopsy before she was buried, saying “we know how she died.”
The assassination has further destabilised a key US ally in the “war on terror” at a time of mounting Islamist militancy and broad-based opposition to Musharraf’s military-led government.
It forced the postponement of general elections, billed as a turning-point in the country’s transition to democratic rule after Musharraf’s 1999 coup, by six weeks to February 18.
The PPP has demanded a UN probe into her assassination similar to the one into the murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005.