Ministry backtracks on Bhutto sunroof claims

Other News Materials 1 January 2008 18:59 (UTC +04:00)

(CNN)- Pakistan's Interior Ministry backtracked Tuesday on its statement that Benazir Bhutto died because she hit her head on a sunroof latch during a shooting and bomb attack.

The government also published a reward offer in several national newspapers to anyone who could identify two suspects from the killing.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told CNN the ministry will wait for the findings from forensic investigators before making a conclusion about her cause of death.

Cheema said he based his statement Friday about the sunroof latch "on the initial investigations and the reports by the medical doctors" who treated her at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

"I was just narrating the facts, you know, and nothing less nothing more," Cheema said.

"There's no intention to conceal anything from the people of Pakistan," an Interior Ministry news release said.

The reward offer, which appeared with photographs of the dead suspects, said that "the person identifying these terrorists will be awarded a cash prize of 5 million rupees (about $81,400) and his identity will also be kept confidential" -- a total reward available of 10 million.

"The response from the public has been nil so far," Punjab spokesman Ashfaq Gondal said Tuesday afternoon.

Athar Minallah , a lawyer on the board that manages Rawalpindi General Hospital, told CNN Monday that doctors did not make the statements attributed to them by the government.

The medical report -- obtained by CNN from Minallah -- made no mention of the sunroof latch and listed the cause of death as "Open head injury with depressed skull fracture, leading to Cardiopulmonary arrest."

Pakistan's Interior Ministry said Thursday it was from a bullet or shrapnel wound, but then it announced a day later that Bhutto died from a skull fracture suffered when she fell or ducked into the car as a result of the shots or the explosion and crashed her head into a sunroof latch.

Bhutto's family and political party maintain that the government is lying, and insist she died from gunshot wounds.

Several videos show a gunman firing a pistol toward her just moments before a bomb detonated nearby as she left a rally.

The U-turn on the sunroof claims will only heighten speculation as to the exact cause of Bhutto's death.

Minallah issued an open letter Monday and released the doctors' clinical notes to distance them from the government statement.

In the letter, Minallah said the doctors "suggested to the officials to perform an autopsy," but that Saud "did not agree." He noted that under the law, police investigators have "exclusive responsibility" in deciding to have an autopsy.

Minallah told CNN that he was speaking out because the doctors at the hospital were "threatened."

"They are government servants who cannot speak; I am not," he said. He did not elaborate on the threats against the doctors.

He said the lack of an autopsy has created "a perception that there is some kind of cover-up, though I might not believe in that theory."

"There is a state within the state, and that state within the state does not want itself to be held accountable," Minallah said.

The three-page medical report, which was signed by seven doctors, described Bhutto's head wound, but it did not conclude what caused it. It noted that X-ray images were made after she was declared dead.

The wound was described as an irregular oval of about 5 centimeters by 3 centimeters above her right ear. "Sharp bones edges were felt in the wound," it read. "No foreign body was felt in the wound."

Rawalpindi's police chief was accused Monday of stopping doctors at the hospital where Bhutto died from conducting an autopsy.

It was a violation of Pakistani criminal law and prevented a medical conclusion about what killed the former prime minister, said Minallah .

However, the police chief involved, Aziz Saud , told CNN that he suggested an autopsy be done -- but that Bhutto's husband objected.

Cheema said the government had no objection to Bhutto's body being exhumed for an autopsy if the family requested it.

Her widower ,Asif Ali Zardari , has said the family was against exhumation because it did not trust the government.

Minallah said the family could not have prevented an autopsy at the hospital without getting an order from a judge.

The revelations about the exact cause of Bhutto's death came after new videotape of her assassination emerged, showing her slumping just after gunshots rang out.

The tape provided the clearest view yet of the attack and appeared to show that Bhutto was shot. That would contradict the Pakistan government's account.

A previously released videotape showed a man at the right of her vehicle raising a gun, pointing it toward Bhutto, who was standing in her car with her upper body through the sunroof. He fired three shots, then there was an explosion.

In the video that emerged on Sunday, Bhutto was standing, and her hair and scarf appeared to move, perhaps from the bullet. Bhutto fell into the car, then came the blast.

These images seem to support the theory that Bhutto died at the hands of a shooter before a bomb was detonated, killing another 23 people.

Bhutto's husband, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday, called for an international investigation into his wife's death, saying the new video proves the Pakistani government "has been trying to muddy the water from the first day."

"Everything is now very clear that she was shot," Asif Ali Zardari said.

Zardari also called on the U.S. government to push for an international probe. "I want them to help me find out who killed my wife, the mother of my children," he said of the Bush administration.

The reward offer announced: "The public is hereby informed that the two individuals in the above photograph are the accused terrorists involved in the Liaqat Bagh , Rawalpindi Terror Attack, which resulted in the death of the Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and others." ' Mohtarma ' is a title of respect in the Urdu language.

"The person identifying these terrorists will be awarded a cash prize of 5 million rupees (about $81,400) and his identity will also be kept confidential," said Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi -- a total reward available of 10 million.

"The response from the public has been nil so far," Punjab spokesman Ashfaq Gondal said Tuesday afternoon.