Such a tragedy…my heart goes out.
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistani opposition leader and former premier Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a party rally late Thursday, plunging the nation deeper into crisis less than two weeks before elections.
She was shot in the neck before a suicide bomber blew himself up at a park in the northern city of Rawalpindi, killing around 20 people, after Bhutto had just addressed supporters.
The slaying stunned leaders around the world who urged calm and warned that extremists must not be allowed to destabilize the nuclear-armed nation before the January 8 parliamentary vote.
US President George W. Bush, for whom Pakistan is a vital ally in the “war on terror,” called it a “cowardly act” and appealed to its government to stay on the path back toward democracy after eight years of military rule.
Several witnesses said they heard at least one shot before the blast, which tore off limbs. People ran in panic, screaming as they trampled over pieces of human flesh. Puddles of blood dotted the road.
“There was an enormous explosion, and then I saw body parts flying through the air,” said Mirza Fahin, a professor at a local college.
“When the dust cleared, I saw mutilated bodies lying in blood. I have never seen anything so horrible in my life — just parts of human beings, flesh, lying in the road.”
Unrest broke out in several areas as mobs of protesters torched buildings, trucks and shops, blocked roads and uprooted rail tracks. Two people were shot dead in rioting in the eastern city of Lahore and two were killed in southern Sindh province.
President Pervez Musharraf, who announced three days of national mourning, urged people to remain peaceful “so that the evil designs of terrorists can be defeated,” state television reported.
The interior ministry said police and paramilitary forces across Pakistan had been placed on the highest “red alert” level.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but Bhutto had in the past accused elements in the intelligence services of trying to kill her.
She also said she had received death threats from Islamic militant groups, including Al-Qaeda.