Thousands mourn slain leader
Al-Qaida, Taliban blamed in slaying of Benazir Bhutto

GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH, Pakistan - Hundreds of thousands of mourners thronged the mausoleum of Pakistan's most famous political dynasty on Friday in an outpouring of emotion for Benazir Bhutto. The government said al-Qaida and the Taliban were responsible for her death, claiming it intercepted an al-Qaida leader's message of congratulation for the assassination.

But many of Bhutto's furious supporters blamed President Pervez Musharraf's government for the shooting and bombing attack on the former prime minister, his most powerful opponent. They rampaged through several cities in violence that left at least 23 dead less than two weeks before crucial parliamentary elections.

'We have the evidence that al-Qaida and Taliban were behind the suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto,' Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz said.

Thursday's attack on Bhutto plunged Pakistan into turmoil and badly damaged plans to restore democracy in this nuclear-armed nation.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said that on Friday, the government recorded an 'intelligence intercept' in which militant leader Baitullah Mehsud 'congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act.'

Cheema described Mehsud as an 'al-Qaida leader' who was also behind the Karachi bomb blast in October against Bhutto that killed more than 140 people. He also announced the formation of two inquiries into Bhutto's death, one to be carried out by a high court judge and another by security forces.

Bhutto was killed Thursday when a suicide attacker shot at her and then blew himself up as she left a rally in Rawalpindi. Authorities initially said she died from bullet wounds, and a surgeon who treated her said she died from the impact of shrapnel on her skull.

But Cheema said she was killed when she tried to duck back into the vehicle, and the force of the blast smashed her head into a lever on the sunroof, fracturing her skull, he said.

He said other senior politicians were also under threat of militant attack, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who promised to boycott parliamentary elections on Jan. 8 in response to Bhutto's assassination.

Cheema showed a videotape of the attack, with Bhutto waving, smiling and chatting with supporters from the sunroof as her car sat unmoving on the street outside the rally. Three gunshots rang out, the camera appeared to fall, and the tape ended.

U.S. officials said Bhutto's death is unlikely to prompt any major strategy shift or cuts in billions of dollars in American aid, with some conceding that the Bush administration has little choice but to stay the course.

'There are not a lot of alternatives out there,' said one. 'We have an interest in seeing Pakistan be stable and seeing that the government there has a reasonable level of legitimacy and popular support. That has not and will not change.'