Islamabad, Jan.10 : Scotland Yard's five investigators in Pakistan have accepted a difficult task in probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
According to the U.S. intelligence-gathering outfit STRATFOR, with Islamabad committing itself to nailing those responsible for the murder, the British investigators have their work cut out for them.
STRATFOR say the British have some of the best investigators, forensic technicians and laboratories in the world. Moreover, after decades of investigating Irish Republican Army attacks and, more recently, attacks by jihadist operatives in London, they not only are extremely proficient, but highly experienced. But, this does not take away from the fact that they face a daunting task.
According to STRATFOR, the crime scene investigation would need to proceed on two fronts, one focusing on the shooting and the other on the bombing.
The shooting investigation would be concerned with determining the number of shots fired and from where they came. The investigators also would conduct a forensic examination of the evidence to match any recovered slugs and shell casings to any recovered weapons. The recovered weapons and shell casings would be examined for latent fingerprints in an effort to determine who handled them. Even in the best of times and in a location where the crime scene is able to be secured and carefully preserved for investigators, bullets can pass through a victim and never be recovered, or they can deform or fragment - making a forensic comparison difficult.
It also can be very difficult to recover identifiable latent fingerprints from a weapon after police or first responders handle it.
This difficulty will be magnified in the Bhutto case because the prints could have been smudged or obliterated by the subsequent bombing, or others could have touched the gun during the ensuing chaos.
To complicate matters even further, the crime scene was quickly cleaned up and hosed down after the attack, which might have washed away valuable evidence such as bullet fragments and shell casings.
Compounding Scotland Yard's problems is Pakistan's cottage gun industry. The country is literally awash in weapons that cannot be tracked to a specific maker or by serial number to a specific gun dealer or owner. This means the manufacturer of the gun involved in the Bhutto assassination might never be identified.
Moreover, even if the maker were found, the lack of firearms sales records would prevent him from identifying the owner, even if he were willing to do so. Additionally, the gun could have changed hands several times since it was first acquired.
As for the bombing crime scene, the investigators would want to recover pieces of the improvised explosive device (IED) in the hope of determining the components used and the construction technique. This combination of components and construction technique, often referred to as the bomb-maker's "signature," would then be compared to devices used in other attacks or unexploded IEDs that had been recovered in an effort to determine who made the device.
Another obstacle for investigators is the difficulty of identifying a suicide bomber after the explosion, especially one who was not carrying identification or was carrying false identification, something that is easy to procure in Pakistan.
However, two factors could aid the investigators in this case. First, Pakistan requires fingerprints for its national ID cards. Second, the bomber's hands might have survived the blast. It is possible, then, that the bomber's fingerprints can be compared to the fingerprints of potential suspects.
Even if that were the case, though, another problem arises. There is a phenomenon in explosions in which body extremities are ripped from the torso of those in close proximity to the blast. This phenomenon, called sudden traumatic amputation, is the reason the heads of suicide bombers frequently are recovered in good shape. Because of this effect, it is not uncommon to find dismembered hands and especially feet at a bombing scene. However, it often is difficult to connect these hands and feet to specific bodies, so even if the bomber's hands survived the blast, they could have been buried with someone else's body.
Much has been made in the media about the failure of the Pakistani government to preserve the crime scene.
According to STRATFOR, the condition of the crime scene in the Bhutto case is not unique, nor is it an indication in and of itself of a cover-up attempt. Such crime scene contamination routinely occurs - especially in the Third World, it adds.
In addition to clean-up efforts at the scene, time also works against investigators because weather and vehicle and pedestrian contact can all work to eliminate trace evidence such as explosive residue.
Because of these factors, by the time a Western forensic team can get to a place such as Pakistan, much of the crucial evidence might have disappeared.
There are cases, however, in which forensic teams have been creative or have caught lucky breaks.
Shrapnel from the IED heavily hit the armoured vehicle in which Bhutto was travelling. A careful examination of the vehicle will likely yield bomb fragments covered in explosive residue, which could allow forensic chemists to identify the explosive used in the device. The vehicle also could have been struck by one or more of the shots fired at Bhutto, and thus could also yield some useful ballistic evidence. In the end, the vehicle could prove to be the most valuable source of evidence for the forensic team.
The Major Obstacleshe biggest obstacles facing the Scotland Yard investigators in this case is the uncertainty over the exact cause of death and the fact that Bhutto was buried without an autopsy having been performed.
The autopsy not only would have determined what killed her, but perhaps also would have resulted in the recovery of the bullet that struck her - if indeed it was a bullet that caused her head wound and killed her.
It is unlikely that Bhutto's body will be exhumed for an autopsy. From a forensic standpoint, the Scotland Yard team could be able to tie the shell casings recovered at the scene to the gun used by the shooter - assuming the gun is ever recovered.
Without accurate documentation of the wound, it might also be difficult to determine the angle from which the gun was fired, meaning where the shooter was in relation to Bhutto.
However, given the historical context of political assassination in Pakistan - some investigated by Scotland Yard - it will come as no surprise if the investigation turns up little.