ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Scotland Yard's report on the death of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, which supported the Pakistani government's account that she hit her head on her car after a suicide bomb attack, led Friday to a new round of recriminations between her political party and backers of President Pervez Musharraf.
The Pakistan Peoples Party rejected the British conclusion that Bhutto had died from a massive injury when a bomb blast slammed her head into the escape hatch in her armored vehicle's roof as she was leaving a campaign rally at a park in Rawalpindi. The party insisted that she was shot, and reiterated a demand that the United Nations conduct an inquiry into her Dec. 27 assassination.
"It is difficult to agree with the cause of death findings," party spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said. "We still believe that she was shot."
The Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which supports the embattled Musharraf, accused Bhutto's party of trying to fan suspicions of government complicity in her murder to win votes in national elections Feb. 18.
"They believe . . . this can give them political mileage," PML-Q spokesman Tariq Azim asserted. "That is a sad thing. They are playing politics with the death of their leader."
"The report is very clear," he said. "It basically backs and substantiates the Pakistan government's version of the events of that sad day."
The controversy reflects the increasing bitterness of an election battle that could determine the fate of the unpopular Musharraf, who seized power as the army chief in 1999 and whom the Bush administration hails as an "indispensable" ally in the fight against al Qaida and other Islamic extremists in Pakistan's tribal region.
Musharraf could face impeachment if opposition parties win two-thirds of the 342 national assembly seats, because he ousted dozens of judges last year and ordered legally questionable constitutional changes that extended his grip on power.
The two-and-a-half-week Scotland Yard investigation didn't examine responsibility for Bhutto's assassination.
The probe was hampered by the refusal of her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to permit an autopsy or the exhumation of her body, as well as the destruction of evidence because the police failed to secure the crime scene.
The British Embassy released a summary of the investigation's conclusion. The full document wasn't made public because it contains confidential technical information and witness statements to the police.
Scotland Yard also concluded that a single assailant had fired a pistol at Bhutto before detonating explosives that he was carrying. There's been a widespread belief, fueled by amateur videos, that there were two assailants: a gunman and a suicide bomber.
"All the evidence indicates that one suspect has fired the shots before detonating an improvised explosive device," the report concludes. "At the time of the attack, this person was standing close to the rear of Ms. Bhutto's vehicle. The blast caused a violent collision between her head and the escape hatch area of the vehicle, causing a severe and fatal head injury."
The findings were based largely on X-rays of Bhutto's head and the testimony of hospital staff members and family members who washed her body before burial, the report says.
"Ms. Bhutto's only apparent injury was a major trauma to the right side of the head," it says. "The U.K. (United Kingdom) experts all exclude this injury being an entry or exit wound as a result of gunshot."
The report quotes a British government pathologist as saying that he thought that the explosion drove Bhutto's head into part of the escape hatch.
Bhutto, who twice served as prime minister, had returned from exile to lead her party's election campaign. Days of violence followed her death, and the government postponed the election from Jan. 8 to Feb. 18.
Many Pakistanis are convinced that the government was complicit in her slaying because of a lack of security around her and the authorities' failure to secure the crime scene and preserve forensic evidence. The government fueled suspicions by issuing conflicting versions of the cause of death.
Pakistan and the CIA have blamed the killing on Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of an al Qaida-allied Islamic alliance — the Taliban Movement of Pakistan — that's waging an insurgency based in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the government announced that it had detained two more suspects in the case, bringing the number under arrest to four.
Zardari and his son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari — who've assumed joint leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party — and other opposition politicians are demanding a U.N. investigation.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., introduced a resolution Thursday calling for an "independent investigation."
Musharraf reluctantly agreed to the Scotland Yard probe in a bid to tamp down the charges of official complicity.
In concluding that one assailant was involved, the report says that the body parts of only one individual remain unidentified and "expert opinion provides strong evidence that they originate from the suicide bomber."
"Analysis of the media footage places the gunman at the rear of the vehicle and looking down immediately before the explosion. The footage does not show the presence of any other potential bomber,"' the report adds. "This footage, when considered alongside the findings of the forensic explosive expert that the bombing suspect was within 1 to 2 meters of the vehicle towards its rear and with no person or other obstruction between him and the vehicle, strongly suggests that the bomber and gunman were at the same position.
"It is virtually inconceivable that anyone who was where the gunman can clearly be seen on the media footage could have survived the blast and escaped."
"This is a cruel joke being played," said Latif Khosa, Bhutto's personal lawyer and the head of the lawyers' wing of her party. "I am shocked and amazed how Scotland Yard has come to this conclusion."
Ikram Sehgal, a security analyst based in Karachi, said: "The report is very cut and dried. I was also skeptical about the (Pakistani) government version to begin with. But Scotland Yard is not going to play around."
There were known to be grave threats to Bhutto's life. The bombing of her homecoming parade in Karachi marked her return from exile to Pakistan less than three months before her death. She had accused Musharraf allies of plotting to eliminate her.