Al Qaeda takes credit for Bhutto assassination


Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, in a propaganda video in May 2007.

Al Qaeda’s central command is taking credit for today’s successful assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A senior al Qaeda military leader in Afghanistan has contacted Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist for the Asia Times and Adnkronos International with close connections to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and bragged about killing Bhutto.

“We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,” Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, told Mr. Shahzad. The attack was reportedly ordered at the highest levels of al Qaeda.

“It is believed that the decision to kill Bhutto, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was made by al-Qaeda No. 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October,” Mr. Shahzad also reported. “Death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and ultimately one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Bhutto.”

Mustafa Abu al Yazid has long been the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In May, Yazid was officially appointed al Qaeda’s military commander in Afghanistan.

The Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and other indigenous Pakistani terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammned and Lashkar-e-Taiba (which is now Jamaatud Dawa) essentially serve as muscle for al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Based on the sophistication of the Bhutto assassination, al Qaeda and the Taliban were very likely assisted by infiltrators and sympathizers in the Pakistani military and Inter Services Intelligence agency.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Rob says:

    I don’t know why the democratic people of that area just don’t proceed to exterminate anyone who professes to have anything to do with Al Qaeda. I don’t care if they just go to a extremist rally, kill them all. They will slowly shrink back to their holes and be afraid to show themselves. Call it tough love, they need to be taught they can’t do this to innocent people and get away with it.

  • Neo says:

    We will have to see how bad the riots and protests are. There will be the usual knee-jerk reaction to blame Musharraf. It remains to be seen how bad the this reaction will be. Musharraf would be wise to call for several days of mourning out of respect.
    I still maintain that Taliban is overreaching. Instead of taking advantage of their position in the mountains to defeat and embarrass the Pakistani army they are going for too many gratuitous attacks against the officers and political officials of all stripes. Instead of subverting Pakistan’s political institutions they are trying to terrorize them into submission. I don’t think that will work in the long run.
    We will see if Al Qaeda can turn its enemies against each other, or if they only manage to turn everyone against themselves.

  • There needs to be a direct and potent reply to AQ and the evil forces of OBL by the international community lead by NATO.
    Simply put NATO needs to take out the Taliban and AQ in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It should be done immediately.

  • crosspatch says:

    How Musharraf handles this is going to be telling. AQ rhetoric aside, look at what they have done:
    They have eliminated Musharraf’s most charismatic rival for him. The message is “We have done you a favor, now back off or you will be next”. From AQ’s point of view, they have eliminated an enemy and at the same time given Musharraf something of value.
    If Musharraf accepts the deal and backs off of the Taliban and AQ, then he shows himself as being just another slimy politician. I am very interested to see what the troops in the territories do now.

  • Chris says:

    “I don’t know why the democratic people of that area just don’t proceed to exterminate anyone who professes to have anything to do with Al Qaeda. ”
    The problem as I see it is that Pakistan has a long history of not only tolerating but encouraging Islamic extremists who are in turn used as proxy forces in places like Kashmir and Afghanistan.
    A whole subculture of madrasses exist with the express purpose of providing a highly devout underclass which can be used to do the bidding of others. Many of the “others” include high ranking posts within the Pakistani govt. This is particularly true with the ISI (intelligence service).
    It is little wonder that the Pakistani govt is willing to tolerate autonomous regions w/i Pakistan which explicitly state that their aims are to support those who wish to topple the govt. One is mindful of the old pogo saying “We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us”
    Pakistan is but one example of (largely) theocratic states which have fostered religious climates which allow them to recruit non state actors to conduct the states business. In time places like Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Saudia Arabia and others must pay the piper.
    I do believe we are in a long war against Islamists. however, I also believe that this cancer has metastasized in such a way as to suggest that it is no longer on a largely linear path (radical Islamists against the west). Rather, the whole takfiri ideology suggests that violence against everyone who is not a devout moslem is sanctioned. This has significant implications for governments in largely Islamic states. I think this is (in part) what we’re seeing in Pakistan.
    It suggests that the truly devout are duty bound to act (with violence) against anyone (govt) who is suspect of being a non true moslem. Talk about the hens coming home to roost.

  • crosspatch says:

    “Pakistan has a long history of not only tolerating but encouraging Islamic extremists”
    Pakistan’s very existence can be seen as Islamic extremism. Pakistan was founded as an Islamic homeland. There are two countries on the planet that were founded specifically as religious homelands. Those are Israel and Pakistan.

  • No More Spin says:

    Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

    The Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated today in the city of Rawalpindi, just south of the capital Islamabad. She was

  • Third time (un)lucky

    This was the kind of news I didn’t want to see first thing on the Internet: Pakistan Opposition Leader Bhutto Killed. The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed thousands of supporters in the Rawalpindi, a city 8 miles south

  • Neo says:

    Pakistan has two primary political problems right now. The two problems play into each other but are not necessarily the same.
    First, there is no real consensus to rule in Pakistan. I’m not just talking about picking a ruling party. An even more basic issue is there must be agreement among all significant factions that they will accept institutions of governance and means for transfer of power. This is a problem that has been in the making for the last thirty years. There is a long standing game of trying to eliminate the opposition, leaving neither the military, or civilian parties, or religious parties without any agreed on consensus to rule. It is not just a poisonous argument about who will rule but all sides refusing to recognize the institutional basis for the other.
    The second problem is the militant Islamist movement. The militant Islamist movement lives off of the aspirations of conservative Muslims but is not in itself the same as conservative Islam. As I have said before, this is not your fathers and grandfathers conservative Islam. Zia’s actions three decades ago and his support for Islamic parties may have set Pakistan on this road, but the mix of politics and terrorism wasn’t quit as deadly or as globalized as the current version. Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren’t just conservative in outlook but are rather a radicalized political movement built around the total rejection of modern political and social institutions and the aspiration of carrying out the ultimate war against all it deems un-Islamic. Al Qaeda has successfully capitalized on Pakistan’s political weakness to further its goals. They capitalized on the Soviet -Afghan war set up their movement and gain legitimacy. They have successfully capitalized on Pashtoon nationalism and the American presence in Afghanistan to launch a militant movement within the Pashtoon population. Now they have pushed a vulnerable Pakistani political system to the brink of disaster.
    Something has to give. Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren’t strong enough to topple the Pakistani government alone. They need at least the support lower level officers within the army or support of a significant portion of the Punjab population. I’m not sure recent tactics by the Taliban will ender them to either the army or the Punjab population. Their other possible route will be to set everyone else upon each other. We will soon see how successful they are at that.
    Pakistan’s other alternative is that the major factions within society get their act together and find a way to start working with each other. This won’t be easy at all, given so much bad history between the various parties. Al Qaeda didn’t create Pakistan’s issues. They are forcing them though.

  • MacZed says:

    The US is moving its troops to Afghanistan from Iraq (some 50,000 of ’em) and those that were docketed for Iraqi duty pre-Christmas were delayed and issued new orders for Afghanistan duty the US Army and Marines over. Now…what it looks like is this – we are about to invade the FATA/NWFP peace treaties be damned.
    It will happen when the government of Musharraf declares the next Marshall law.
    Get ready for a rip rollicking 2008 kickstart.
    The fact is – there are probably in the neighborhood of 10,000 armed enemy combatants in the region dug into a maze of hill holes (like the vietcong). It is time to exterminate the nest.

  • Marlin says:

    Eli Lake is reporting there is reason to believe that Pakistan’s Special Services Group was complicit in the assassination of Bhutto.
    The attack yesterday at Rawalpindi bore the hallmarks of a sophisticated military operation. At first, Bhutto’s rally was hit by a suicide bomb that turned out to be a decoy. According to press reports and a situation report of the incident relayed to The New York Sun by an American intelligence officer, Bhutto’s armored limousine was shot by multiple snipers whose armor-piercing bullets penetrated the vehicle, hitting the former premier five times in the head, chest, and neck. Two of the snipers then detonated themselves shortly after the shooting, according to the situation report, while being pursued by local police.
    A working theory, according to this American source, is that Al Qaeda or affiliated jihadist groups had effectively suborned at least one unit of Pakistan’s Special Services Group, the country’s equivalent of Britain’s elite SAS commandos. This official, however, stressed this was just a theory at this point. Other theories include that the assassins were trained by Qaeda or were from other military services, or the possibility that the assassins were retired Pakistani special forces.
    New York Sun: Qaeda Eyed in Slaying of Bhutto

  • Neo says:

    “A working theory, according to this American source, is that Al Qaeda or affiliated jihadist groups had effectively suborned at least one unit of Pakistan’s Special Services Group, the country’s equivalent of Britain’s elite SAS commandos.”

  • Marlin says:

    I always wonder if the Pakistani authorities are capable of telling the truth, but here’s the latest.
    Pakistan’s interior ministry said Friday that Benazir Bhutto was killed after smashing her head on her car’s sunroof while trying to duck, and that no bullet or shrapnel was found inside her.
    The ministry also said it had intercepted a phone call from a top Al-Qaeda figure congratulating a militant for the attack on her Thursday, and said there was “irrefutable evidence” the group was trying to destabilise the country.
    When she ducked, she hit the lever of the sunroof of the car that was to speed her away from a campaign rally as she was gearing up to contest parliamentary elections set for January 8.
    “The lever struck near her right ear and fractured her skull,” Cheema said. “There was no bullet or metal shrapnel found in the injury.”
    He said intelligence services had intercepted a call Friday from the man considered to be a top Al-Qaeda figure for Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, congratulating a militant after Bhutto’s death.
    He said there was “irrefutable evidence that Al-Qaeda, its networks and cohorts are trying to destabilise Pakistan”.
    AFP: Pakistan says sunroof, not bomb or bullets, killed Bhutto

  • Neo says:

    From the news releases and film today it looks as if this was a fairly straight forward attack. Bhutto was standing through the sunroof of the car. A gunman got to the back of the vehicle and fired three shots from a pistol apparently missing. The bomber on the other side of the car than detonated shortly after. Bhutto died from a massive head wound and skull fracture to the side of the head apparently from the shock of the explosion pushing her head up against the latch mechanism on the side of the sunroof. She may well have been ducking the shots when the blast threw her head against the sunroof. Apparently she had no bullet or shrapnel wounds but the head trauma was substantial. There is no record of sniper shots as some reported. Also, all occupants inside the car survived and the bomb and shots didn’t penetrate the interior of the vehicle.
    The video I saw does directly show the assailant with the gun firing off the first of three shots. The video does show the timing of the bomb blast moments later but unfortunately only shows the back of some placards after the first shots. At least to my untrained eye, the official statements about her death do seem consistent with the video. It also seems consistent with the intercepted statement that there were three involved in the cell, two of which actually carried out the assassination. The third was probably an observer/cell leader and usually the most senior of them.
    Frankly, this makes much more sense than a large scale complex bombing/sniper operation. The assassins picked the right type of attack. This is a small scale attack picking a moment of opportunity when Bhutto was using the sun roof of her armored car. (so much for sunroofs in armored cars) More complex attacks involving snipers seems unlikely or even fanciful at this point. Using snipers at set locations would introduce all sorts of timing problems that a simple attack avoids. The more complex attacks are usually more geared toward pinning down an armored unit and causing multiple casualties.
    Of course the conspiracy nuts will be all over this. Nothing ever satisfies them. I’m very open to the possibility that the Pakistani army is somehow involved and would be inclined to say that security has been compromised in a large number of Pakistani units. I doubt that they would get into any direct planning on this sort of thing. Too many possible recriminations. If anything they would likely leave security lax giving ample opportunities for someone to strike.
    I do notice that populist Pakistani politicians are expected to press the flesh with the voters to a great extent. Large crowds seem to be lingering and mixing with dignitaries everywhere. Here that sort of mixing with crowds died out with the McKinley administration more than a century ago. Security has been getting tighter ever since.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Not entirely correct. President Regean was shot during a “presser”.
    Politicians have to be seen. Especially when running for office…

  • ArlingtonSon says:

    If this was just a target of opportunity, then they got lucky. I wonder if they would of detonated even if she did not come out of the sunroof. Perhaps would of waited until the next rally? Either way, she was marked. Who’s in charge of her security detail? Popping out of a sunroof in a crowd? Pathetic.

  • Neo says:

    “If this was just a target of opportunity, then they got lucky. I wonder if they would of detonated even if she did not come out of the sunroof.”

  • Bill Roggio says:

    We should know better by now not to accept the Pakistani government version of events…. The evidence strongly suggests Bhutto was shot, and didn’t have her skull fractured by hitting it on the sun roof. To penetrate the security, make the shot and det. the bomb, you have be be better than your wannabe assassin.

  • Neo says:

    “We should know better by now not to accept the Pakistani government version of events….”

  • crosspatch says:

    The problem with relying on the press in Pakistan is that one can always find validation for any scenario. The press is full of conflicting yet plausible and official sounding news releases.
    I would not be surprised if it was an al Qaida hit that missed her, that the bomb shock wave did cause her to hit her head on the latch and that she was killed. Not by any particular skill on the part of the people carrying out the job, but by simple bad luck on Bhutto’s part is the cause of her death. In my experience things tend to work out like that more often than any elaborate conspiracy.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Which official line? That she was shot, wounded by shrapnel, or died from hitting her head on a latch? Read what the eyewitnesses say, and watch that video again. She ducks at the sound of gunfire. the blast comes seconds later. The Getty Images photographer confirms this
    Without the Pakistani press, I couldn’t have predicted the North Waziristan Accord 9 months before it happened, the Bajaur Accord 7 months before it happened, explained how the NWFP and the FATA were falling to the Taliban and al Qaeda before the press was even aware of a problem, I could go on… If you doubt that, the archives are here:

  • Neo says:

    The video doesn’t show Bhutto as the shots are fired. The frame moves from Bhutto to the shooter right before the three shots were fired. The camera than moves wildly behind the vehicle and upward before recording the blast. It seems to be more or less pointed behind and above the action when the blast occurs. That doesn’t say much either way other than the shooter was definitely behind the drivers side of the vehicle. No information on that one about when Bhutto ducked.
    The Getty Photographer (John Moore) does confirm your order of events. In his words “A couple of shots and she went down She fell down through the sunroof of the car and right at that moment I raised my camera and started shooting with my high speed motor drive (camera)  that’s why you see the blast in some of the frames “

  • Bill Roggio says:

    “There was a bullet wound I saw that went in from the back of her head and came out the other side,” Bhutto’s spokeswoman Sherry Rehman, who was involved in washing her body for burial, said…
    “This is ridiculous, dangerous nonsense because it is a cover-up of what actually happened,” Sherry Rehman said referring to government claim.
    Farooq Naik, Bhutto’s lawyer and a senior PPP official, said Bhutto had a second bullet wound in the abdomen.
    I suspect the handle of a sunroof wouldn’t reach quite that far… Concerning the abdomen, must we now call declare a “magic sunroof handle” theory?

  • Neo says:

    “There was a bullet wound I saw that went in from the back of her head and came out the other side,” Bhutto’s spokeswoman Sherry Rehman, who was involved in washing her body for burial, said…”

  • Neo says:

    Now people are just confusing the mater more.
    The color footage of the shooter from SkyNews is the same as the earlier black and white footage of the shooter shown on CNN from the Pakistani news release.
    I do agree with Bill about the problems with the Pakistani governments version of events but SkyNews new video is not in fact new.
    CNN link:
    SkyNews Link:
    The shooter is clearly shown in both (as they are identical). The problem is though that Bhutto is not in the frame when this shooter fires.
    Anyone looking at this needs to check out the Getty Photographers account and pictures.
    That’s on the NYT site:
    I contend this shows the moment of the blast. Bhutto has already fallen into the cab of the vehicle unless the shadow of top of her head is still behind the police light mounted on the SUV.
    If Sherry Rheman’s claim that there were entry and exit wounds on Bhutto’s head has any validity than much of this speculation about sequence of events takes a back seat to that revelation. (If True)

  • Neo says:

    This news release has all the recently released evidence photos
    First picture of Benazir Bhutto’s assassin shows the gunman taking aim
    Those are some nice sized handles sticking out there. I like the bolts stick way out. Nice safety engineering there. I don’t know? That’s going to hurt your head if you hit hard.
    Another thing about this, anyone standing next to the vehicle is going to have his view partially obstructed by both the high railing that goes around the top of the vehicle and the armored hatch covers to the sides of Bhutto. The gunners aim is somewhat obstructed as well.
    When I watched the film. I initially made the mistake of thinking the gun was associated with one of the men on the back of the vehicle. The gunman is off to the side a bit. There are two security men on the back of the vehicle. The security man riding closest to the gunman appears to be reaching as far forward along the railing as possible. (perhaps in an attempt to lunge toward the gunman.)
    There are four shots not three. Bang ..Bang-Bang-Bang. All four muzzle flashes are on film. The first shot is the only one really aimed. You can see the gun come up. There is a slight hesitation and the gunman raises his aim a little higher before the first shot. The last three shots don’t appear to be aimed. I don’t hear any other gunshots. The blast comes about 1.5 to 2 seconds later. The gunman and the blast are one in the same person. I thought it was two. (maybe it was two?)
    I’m even more convinced that the Getty Photographers pictures show the front of the car at the moment of the blast. The last photo before the blast shows the both security people on the driver side turning their attention toward where the gunner is. The guard riding the door on the side of the car is looking back. The guard on the back of the car is looking right at the where the gunner is and is starting to reach.
    (It’s a little hard to tell but on the video sequence I believe this guard on the back slides his right handhold forward along the rail along the top of the vehicle and attempts to swing forward a bit to reach the gunners hand with his left arm. I see the gunmans hand go up slightly after the first shot. He lowers to aim again and the guard (on the back of the car) gets him across the top of the gun with his left hand. The hand bounces high and fire three shot in a row.)
    (Look carefully at the last Getty photo before the blast – The photo from the back – Than look at the SkyNews film sequence frame-by-frame. Remember in the film sequence that it isn’t the guy reaching forward on the back of the vehicle that is firing. The gunman is to the side and forward of him. You will see in the frames that it is the guards right hand moving forward along the rail. As I said, he is trying to swing forward and outward toward the gunners hand. Follow the gun, Follow the guards hand, Follow the guards face)

  • Neo says:

    I’m going to post this despite some reservations. The video sequence is a bit fuzzy when enlarged. I now think that it is a legitimate hypothesis that the guard on the back of Bhutto’s SUV reaches out and may actually make contact with the gunners hand shortly after the first shot. I expect someone will do some professional work on the video, so I will wait like the rest of you. This whole exercise is a bit like noodling for fish, so don’t get too worked up.
    Here is a link to the first shot fired. Sorry to use a ‘The Daily Mail’ link. Ick!
    This is the first aimed shot. look at where the muzzle flash, the gun, and hand (white sleeve). The guard on the back of the vehicle is immediately above the assailant in this photo. Look closely right above the gun. It’s a little fuzzy but it is the guards left hand. His hand will slap the top of the gun in the next frame shortly before the next three shots. Unfortunately, the camera jerks away from scene before the blast so we don’t get to see the rest of the sequence before the bomb. The other picture from behind helps but would be several frames ahead of the first shot in my estimation. The gunman aims-hesitates-aims his gun slightly higher-fires-hand raises slightly from recoil-lowered again-guards hand gets him across the top of the gun (or back of hand)-gunner hand bounces up higher and wildly fires three shots high-video sequence moves behind car and jerks out of view. Total of four shots Bang……..Bang,Bang,Bang

  • Neo says:

    That should be:
    His (left) hand will slap the top of the gun in the next frame.
    actually, In this picture I think the guards right hand has moved slightly lower onto a support bar slightly below the vehicles railing.

  • Neo says:

    The newest footage of Bhutto’s assassination is at Channel 4 News (British).
    Most telling is new video from the back that shows Bhutto’s hair and shawl lift up as the first shot is fired from the assailants pistol. The hair and shawl is disturbed low on the left side of the head. She drops and pitches over to her left right after. She is either low or completely through the hatch when the bomb detonates.
    The disturbance of the hair and shawl would be consistent with the gunshot hitting the left side of the neck below the skull. This seems to back up the claim that Bhutto had a deep neck wound on the left side made by Bhutto’s aid who was in the back seat of the vehicle. This is the key conflict in the evidence between government report and eye witnesses inside the vehicle say they saw.
    The other significant fact that is brought out by the new video is that Bhutto fell through the hatch before the bomb goes off. She is either all or most of the way into the vehicle before the bomb goes off.
    I’m can’t say I’m a big fan of the way Channel 4 News did this story. They spend too much effort trying to set a narrative of government cover-up. In the process they miss some things in the film and get a few things wrong.
    First thing they miss is that Bhutto pitches toward the left and does hit the hatch cover with her head as she goes down. This happens before the bomb goes of. I already pointed out that the hatch cover lever has a rather prominent bolt sticking out of it. This may still account for the upper head wound. Channel 4 also claims that the hatch handle is clean of blood but clearly pictures the wrong handle, the left rear hatch handle rather than the left front. Other pictures show both hatch handles and it is the left front that is in question. The front handel is also more consistant with how she falls in the newest film.
    At this point there are too many things pointing to a neck wound in both testimony and the film sequence. The close up shot along with disturbance of her hair and shawl makes a very strong case that the government report is in error. This makes an already poisonous dispute into a fiasco. In the end I don’t see any way to rest this until an independent commission and autopsy are both done.
    Right now the government position that there is no other wound seems unlikely. The line of fire seem almost to demand that there be another wound given all the other evidence and testimony. I’m not going to say it’s inconceivable at this point though because stranger things have happened. Could a bullet hit the hair and shawl and miss the skull. Seems unlikely. You do have to remember that the shooter is firing high up over the railing and left hatch. I maintain that he hesitated a moment and had to reposition his gun higher to clear the left hatch. The first shot seems to hit it’s mark in the film though. I still maintain that the guard on the left rear side of the vehicle saw the shooter and does slap the top of the gun right at about the time of the second shot. All the pictures and video sequences are consistent with this although none seem to show it very clearly.
    I know it would be nice to line everything up to support one side or the other but this is one of those deals where nobody seems to get it completely right.


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