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Cheers, then a loud noise
- A shot, another, was there a third?

Rawalpindi, Dec. 27: It was 5.15 in the evening and I had just walked out of the Liaquat Bagh gates thinking how to begin my report when the cheers suddenly turned louder.

Benazir Bhutto’s white Land Cruiser had just squeezed itself out of the gates onto College Road, and was about to turn right, when a group of supporters crowded around it and forced it to stop.

The car was about 30 metres away from me.

Suddenly a noise rang out ó like a shot being fired. Then another. Was there a third ó it was difficult to tell amid the din. I could just glimpse the car trying to swerve to the right, towards Murree Road.

The next moment, there was a loud blast and the car was hidden by a huge ball of smoke. There were loud screams. Seconds later, as the smoke lightened a bit, I caught my last glimpse of the car as it sped away towards Murree Road, dodging the other vehicles on a now chaotic street.

People were shouting and running helter-skelter. Bodies and fragments of human flesh lay scattered on the road. I saw a decapitated head.

Was Benazir safe? Where had the car taken her?

I rushed towards the gate, to the spot where the blast happened. Wailing ambulances and police cars had begun arriving. They began picking up the bodies and the injured; the officers had no time to answer anyone’s questions.

My mobile was ringing constantly ó family and friends were anxious to know if I was safe. From them, I learnt about what was appearing on television. The police had by then shooed us off and cordoned the area.

“A suicide bomber fired three shots and then blew himself up,” was all an officer, Mohammed Shaheed, would say. That much seemed obvious anyway.

A colleague had got through to interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema on his phone, but the official, too, wasn’t sure if Benazir was alive. He said she had been taken to Rawalpindi General Hospital down Murree Road, 3km from the blast site.

I was preparing to go to the hospital when I suddenly caught sight of Pakistan People’s Party leader Raja Shafaqat Abbasi just across the street. He stood before a two-storey building, weeping helplessly. Then I knew.

A call to PPP spokesman Nazir Dhoki confirmed that Benazir was dead, shot in the head and neck.

The hospital was crowded and chaotic. “We have lost our daughter,” a woman wept. “Our sister is gone,” cried a man.

Most were abusing and cursing President Pervez Musharraf. Because of the state they were in, it was difficult to say if they were blaming Musharraf for failing to prevent the attack or accusing him of plotting it.

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