Departure from Zardari House for Liaquat Bagh
86. Around 1400 hours, Ms Bhutto left Zardari House, for Liaquat Bagh, in a convoy of vehicles. The convoy consisted of a black Toyota Land Cruiser used by Mr Tauqir Kaira, followed by Ms Bhutto’s white armoured Land Cruiser and two of Mr Kaira’s vehicles on either side of Ms Bhutto’s vehicle. The latter two were a Mercedes-Benz van on the right and a four-door double cabin vehicle on the left.
Immediately behind those vehicles were two Toyota Vigo pick-up trucks, positioned side by side. A black Mercedes-Benz car was behind these Vigos. This Mercedes- Benz, from Zardari House, was bullet-proof and served as the back-up vehicle for Ms Bhutto. The two Vigo pick-up trucks were also from Zardari House.
87. Mr Kaira was inside the lead vehicle with his security men. Accompanying Ms Bhutto in her vehicle were Mr Javed-ur-Rehman (driver, front-left seat), SSP Major (ret) Imtiaz Hussain (front-right seat), Makhdoom Amin Fahim (senior PPP member, second row-left seat), Ms Bhutto (second row-centre seat), Ms Naheed Khan (senior PPP member and political secretary of Ms Bhutto, second row-right seat). Seated in the back of the vehicle on two benches facing each other were Senator Safdar Abbasi (senior PPP member, rear-right bench), Mr Shahenshah (rear-left bench, facing
Senator Abbasi) and Mr Razaq Mirani (personal attendant of Ms Bhutto, rear-right bench next to Senator Abbasi and to his left). Mr Kaira’s two vehicles on either side of Ms Bhutto’s Land Cruiser carried his men. The Vigo pick-up trucks carried members of Mr Chaudry Aslam’s security team. Riding in the black Mercedes-Benz car were the driver, PPP official Mr Faratullah Babar in the front passenger seat and, in the rear passenger seat from left to right, two PPP officials Mr Babar Awan and Mr Rehman Malik and General (ret) Tauqir Zia.
Arrival at Liaquat Bagh
88. Ms Bhutto’s convoy reached the Faizabad junction at about 1415 hours, according to the Rawalpindi District Police, who were to assume responsibility for security of the convoy. According to the police and the Security Plan, an escort was to be provided composed of a traffic police “pilot” jeep, a regular police jeep leading the convoy and three Elite Force Toyota pick-up trucks protecting Ms Bhutto’s Land Cruiser on three sides. People in Ms Bhutto’s vehicle claim, however, that there was no such escort except for one traffic police vehicle.
89. At about 1456 hours, Ms Bhutto’s convoy turned right at the Murree Road – Liaquat Road junction and headed towards Liaquat Bagh. Video footage shows Ms Bhutto’s convoy driving from the Murree Road – Liaquat Bagh junction to the inner security gate leading to the VIP parking area at Liaquat Bagh. The footage shows Ms Bhutto standing through the roof escape hatch of her Land Cruiser and waving at the large crowd around the vehicle while it moved slowly on Liaquat Road.
90. Both ASP Ashfaq Anwar who was the supervisor of the Elite Force unit and Inspector Azmat Ali Dogar, the unit’s commander, told the Commission that they accompanied Ms Bhutto all the way to the back of the stage according to the Security Plan. However, video footage and pictures show that as Ms Bhutto drove on much of Liaquat Road, her vehicle was flanked only by her private security vehicles. The Elite Force vehicles were nowhere near her vehicle. In fact, the Commission has identified Inspector Dogar among the crowd some distance from Ms Bhutto’s vehicle.
Contrary to the police assertion, there was no police-provided box formation around Ms Bhutto as she arrived at the rally, and the Elite Force unit did not execute their duties as specified in the security deployment. Furthermore, the Commission does not believe that the full escort as described by the police was ever present.
91. At about 1516 hours, Ms Bhutto’s convoy stopped for a few minutes at the inner gate of the parking area waiting for that gate to be opened, during which Ms Bhutto remained standing through the escape hatch. The police and some PPP members disagree as to the reason for the delay in opening the gate. While the PPP asserts that the police did not have the key to open the gate, the police said that they did not want the large crowd following Ms Bhutto to get into the VIP parking area.
Altogether, Ms Bhutto stood through the escape hatch for the approximately 20 minutes it took to drive from the Murree Road – Liaquat Road junction to the gate of the parking area. This calls into question the claim of the Rawalpindi District Police that they were surprised when Ms Bhutto emerged from the escape hatch on her way out of Liaquat Bagh.
92. Once the convoy passed through the inner gate, at about 1531 hours, it drove through the VIP parking area to the rear of the stage. At least the following three vehicles were in the VIP parking area: Ms Bhutto’s Land Cruiser, Mr Kaira’s lead vehicle and the black bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz car. Temporary wooden stairs had been built for the rally to access the rear of the stage directly from the parking area.
Ms Bhutto climbed the stairs, went to the stage to wave to the crowd and took her seat before addressing the crowd.
93. Near the rear of the stage, a scuffle broke out between some workers of the PPP and police who tried to prevent them from climbing to the stage. This created tension between PPP workers and the police officers posted in that area. Accounts given by PPP representatives and the police with regard to the degree and nature of this event differ significantly. The police state that the dispute was minor and was settled immediately, whereas some on the local PPP side claim it was serious and led to bitter reactions from the police during the rest of the rally. They say that the police felt insulted and became more passive in their security role. The Commission finds that the police were indeed passive in their provision of security and believes it unprofessional if the Rawalpindi District Police reduced their level of alert to any degree as a result of wounded pride.
Exit from Liaquat Bagh
94. Several thousand people attended the event. Ms Bhutto was joined on the stage by a number of national-level PPP leaders and all of the parliamentary candidates from Rawalpindi district. The crowds were enthusiastic, and PPP leaders and activists considered the event to have been a great success. They say Ms Bhutto gave a strong and rousing speech, one of the best of her campaign, and describe her as having been radiant that day.
95. The public gathering concluded and, at about 1710 hours, Ms Bhutto descended the wooden stairs and entered her Land Cruiser. The occupants of the Land Cruiser and their seating positions were the same as for the trip in to Liaquat Bagh. The composition of passengers in the black Mercedes-Benz car also remained the same.
96. The black bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz car was the first to leave the parking area. It is not clear how much distance there was between this vehicle and the rest of Ms Bhutto’s convoy at the moment of the blast. Credible reports range from 100 meters to 250 meters. Some of those in the car said that they were close enough to Ms Bhutto’s vehicle to feel the impact of the blast. Others at the site of the blast have said that the Mercedes-Benz left Liaquat Bagh so quickly that it was nowhere to be seen when the blast occurred. Indeed, the Commission has not seen this vehicle in the many video images of the exit area it reviewed. Despite the acknowledgement of some occupants of the vehicle that they felt the impact of the blast, the Commission finds it incredible that they drove all the way to Zardari House, a drive of about 20 minutes, before they became aware that Ms Bhutto had been injured in the blast.
They should have stopped at a safe distance when they felt the blast so as to check on Ms Bhutto’s condition, the condition of her vehicle and whether the back-up vehicle was required. Indeed, as the back-up vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz car would have been an essential element of Ms Bhutto’s convoy on the return trip even if the occupants of that car had confirmed that Ms Bhutto had been unscathed in the attack.
97. Mr Kaira’s vehicle was the next to leave the inner parking area after the Mercedes-Benz car, with Ms Bhutto’s vehicle right behind it, followed by another of Mr Kaira’s vehicles. The two Vigo pick-up trucks then followed from the outer parking area located between the inner and outer gates.
98. At 1712 hours, Ms Bhutto’s Land Cruiser exited from the outer gate. Crowds of people who were already on Liaquat Road drew closer to the vehicle as it began to turn right onto Liaquat Road. In addition, many people left the park, swelling the crowd around the Land Cruiser, contrary to the police assertion that they did not allow anyone to leave the park before the departure of Ms Bhutto’s convoy. Ms Bhutto emerged through the escape hatch of the vehicle and started waving to her supporters. When the vehicle approached the central road divider, it was slowed further by the crowd.
99. Major Imtiaz, who was sitting in the front seat of the Land Cruiser, said that he was worried that the convoy was being slowed down by the crowd. He wanted to call CPO Saud Aziz by cell phone, but he did not have the CPO’s direct number. Instead he called CPO Saud Aziz’s operator and the operator at the police station in Multan, another town in Punjab Province (where Major Imtiaz had recently served). The Commission finds that this lack of preparation was a major flaw in the security arrangements and reflects badly on the professionalism of Major Imtiaz who should have had full and rapid access to the Rawalpindi police command.
100. Questions remain as to the nature of the crowd that gathered around the Land Cruiser. Passengers in the Land Cruiser and some local PPP members recalled that they were mostly PPP workers, and they did not see any strangers or irregular movements among them. The Rawalpindi District Police and other PPP members, however, suggested that a group of people had deliberately stood in front of the Land Cruiser to prevent it from moving. Regardless of the accuracy of either account, it remains that the police did not control the crowd outside of Liaquat Bagh. As a result, the attacker was able to get as close as he did to Ms Bhutto’s vehicle.
101. The Rawalpindi police authorities and some PPP workers dispute the exact exit route agreed for Ms Bhutto’s convoy. The Rawalpindi District Police and DCO Elahi claim that the planned route for the convoy was to turn right onto Liaquat Road and then left onto Murree Road, retracing the convoy’s entry route. Only in case of an emergency was the convoy to make a left turn after exiting from the outer gate; a decision to take the emergency route had to be made by the senior police officer in charge of security on the scene. Some local PPP workers who attended the preparatory meeting with the police disagree with this account. They claim that the original plan was to make a left turn onto Liaquat Road and that the minutes provided by the DCO, which did not indicate this left turn, were inaccurate. In any event, photographs show two stationary police vehicles on Liaquat Road blocking the left- side drive lane where the left turn would have been made. As a result, even in an emergency, it would have been impossible for Ms Bhutto’s convoy to make a left turn and use the escape route unless those police vehicles were quickly moved. The Commission learned that these vehicles were official vehicles of senior Rawalpindi police officers. The Commission finds it irresponsible that these vehicles were parked in such a way as to block the emergency exit route.
102. The Rawalpindi District Police claim that police vehicles from the Elite Force unit headed by ASP Ashfaq Anwar were waiting outside the outer gate to escort Ms Bhutto’s convoy and that they were about to go into a protective box formation when the attack on Ms Bhutto took place. However, forming the box at this point was impracticable given the narrow width of Liaquat Road and the number of people who had already started to surround Ms Bhutto’s vehicle. In any event, video footage shows very few uniformed police on the scene available to push back the crowd to create space for the box formation. Furthermore, video and photographs taken shortly before the blast as well as Commission interviews indicate that the Elite Force unit was not in position to go into a box formation. The Elite Force unit was in place neither for the entry nor the exit of the convoy and did not afford the protection they were tasked with, thus failing spectacularly in their duty.
103. Overall, video and photographic materials as well as the Commission’s interviews establish that there were very few police deployed outside the outer gate and on Liaquat Road as Ms Bhutto’s convoy attempted to depart the scene.
104. From the exit, Ms Bhutto’s Land Cruiser started to make a right turn onto Liaquat Road. As it slowly approached the central divider on Liaquat Road, the crowd began chanting slogans. There is some dispute over whether Ms Bhutto made the decision to stand up on her own or was urged to do so. Before she stood up, Ms Bhutto asked Ms Naheed Khan to make a phone call to Mr Nawaz Sharif, PML-N leader, to convey condolences for the deaths of some of his supporters who had been shot during the PML-N rally earlier that day. It had been reported that the shooting incident occurred between supporters of the PML-N and those of the PML-Q parties.
105. While Ms Khan was trying to reach Mr Sharif, Ms Bhutto stopped her and asked Senator Abbasi, who was sitting in the rear seat, to chant slogans to the crowd using the vehicle’s loudspeaker. Ms Bhutto then stood on the seat and appeared through the escape hatch, with her head and shoulders exposed.
106. Ms Bhutto waved to the crowd. The vehicle continued to move slowly into its right turn onto Liaquat Road. At this point, a man wearing dark glasses appeared in the crowd on the left side of the Land Cruiser. Around 1714 hours, while the vehicle continued into its right turn, the man pulled out a pistol, and from a distance of approximately two to three meters, fired three shots at Ms Bhutto. According to video analysis conducted by Scotland Yard, the three shots were fired in less than one second.
107. The Commission examined video footage taken from a back angle, which shows Ms Bhutto’s dupatta, her white head covering, and her hair flick upwards after the second shot. However, there is no evidence of a link between the second shot and that movement. After the third shot, she started to move down into the vehicle.
108. After the third shot, the gunman lowered the gun, looked down and then detonated the explosives. At the time of the blast, the gunman was near the left rear corner of the vehicle. Video footage shows that at the time of the explosion, the Land Cruiser was still making the right turn. The Scotland Yard team’s analysis shows that it took 1.6 seconds from the time of the first shot to the detonation of the bomb.
In the Land Cruiser
109. Ms Naheed Khan recalled that immediately after she had heard the three gunshots, Ms Bhutto fell down into the vehicle onto her lap. Ms Khan said that she felt the impact of the explosion immediately thereafter. The right side of Ms Bhutto’s head came to rest on Ms Khan’s lap. Ms Khan saw that Ms Bhutto was bleeding profusely from the right side of her head. She noticed that Ms Bhutto was not moving and saw that blood was also trickling from her ear. Makhdoom Amin Fahim recalled that Ms Bhutto fell heavily and showed no sign of life after falling.
According to Scotland Yard’s video analysis, the flash of the blast appeared just over two-thirds of a second after Ms Bhutto disappeared from view.
110. No one else in her vehicle was seriously injured.
Transfer to the Hospital
111. After the explosion, Senator Abbasi told the driver to drive to the hospital (initially having in mind a hospital in Islamabad). Although all four of its tires were punctured by the blast, the Land Cruiser managed to drive along Liaquat Road for approximately 300 meters towards the junction with Murree Road where it turned left. As the Land Cruiser moved along Murree Road, it became increasingly difficult for the driver to manoeuvre on the metal rims of the wheels. The Land Cruiser made a U-turn at the Rehmanabad junction, located approximately four kilometres from the Liaquat Road-Murree Road junction, in order to get to the other side of the road where Rawalpindi General Hospital (RGH) was located. The occupants of the Land Cruiser recalled that at this point there was only one traffic police vehicle ahead of the Land Cruiser. No other vehicles were visible – neither the bullet proof black Mercedes-Benz car nor any Elite Force unit vehicle. Following the U-turn, the Land Cruiser stalled. The party had to wait for some time on Murree Road until a private vehicle that belonged to Ms Sherry Rehman arrived and took Ms Bhutto to the hospital.