Rawalpindi, Dec 27: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, 54, was shot at and killed by at least two snipers before a suicide bomb attack on the periphery of her carcade.
Police confirmed that the snipers fired five bullets from AK-47 assault rifles. Two of the bullets hit Benazir in the neck, while a third hit her forehead. No one was near her car when the shots were fired at her. Two of her key political aides, including PPP leader and spokesperson Sherry Rehman and her security aide, were also grievously injured in the attack.
She was taken to the Rawalpindi General Hospital, where a military spokesman and members of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) confirmed that she had succumbed to her injuries. Wasif Ali Khan, a member of the PPP who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital, said she died at 6.16 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time.
Before her assassination, Bhutto had addressed an election rally in Rawalpindi. At least 30 other people reportedly died in the attack and several more were injured.
Bhutto, who was campaigning for the January 8, 2008 elections, had twice been the country's prime minister, in 1988 for 20 months and again between 1993 and 1996.
Her killing is likely to provoke an agonised response from her followers, especially from her loyal following in Sindh Province.
Bhutto was the key to her party's political fortunes, as she was seen as a major political player in the forthcoming elections. The PPP has the largest support of any party in the country.
Rawalpindi, a garrison city, is seen as one of the country's most secure cities, making the attack on Benazir even more embarrassing for President Pervez Musharraf and the military authorities.
Supporters at the hospital began chanting "Dog, Musharraf, dog", referring to President Pervez Musharraf. Amidst the scenes of grief and shock, some PPP activists broke the glass door at the main entrance to the emergency unit as others wept. Outside the hospital and in Liaquat Bagh area, her supporters attacked police vans and cars, and shouted slogans against the lapse in security.
A man with a PPP flag tied around his head could be seen beating his chest in grief.
Interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema, was quoted as saying that she may have been killed by pellets packed into the suicide bomber's vest, but a PPP security adviser said she was shot in the neck and chest as she got into her vehicle, before one of the gunmen blew himself up.
Among the mourners at the hospital were Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister and opposition leader, who squarely blamed President Musharraf and the Pakistan Army for the tragedy.
Earlier on Thursday at least four people were killed ahead of a PML (N) election rally that Sharif was preparing to attend close to Rawalpindi.
The killing was condemned by the US and Russia, and a statement is expected shortly from the UK.
"The attack shows that there are still those in Pakistan trying to undermine reconciliation and democratic development in Pakistan," a US State Department spokesman said.
The Russian foreign ministry condemned the attack, offered condolences to Ms Bhutto's family and said it hoped the Pakistani leadership would "manage to take necessary steps to ensure stability in the country".
The French Government described the assassination as an "odious" act, and said it was deeply concerned.
Bhutto had returned from self-imposed exile in October 18 after nine years out of Pakistan where she had faced corruption charges. On the day of her return, she led a motor cavalcade through Karachi. It was hit by a double suicide attack that left some 130 people dead.
Her return was reportedly the result of a power-sharing agreement with President Musharraf in which he granted an amnesty that covered the court cases she was facing.
Since her return, however, her relations with Musharraf had broken down. According to some unconfirmed reports, she was scheduled to meet Musharraf on Thursday evening after addressing the rally.