FACTIONS within the Pakistan intelligence service might have been behind the assassination of the country's opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, sources within MI5 told Scotland on Sunday last night.
Pakistan continues to teeter on the brink following Bhutto's death on Thursday as she left a rally for an election in which she was expected to become prime minister. The government has tried to blame militant groups linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which saw Bhutto's rise to power as a threat.
But security sources in the UK say pro-Taliban factions in Pakistan's feared Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency may have been behind the attack on the charismatic politician, who returned to her homeland from exile only two months ago to fight the election.
Bhutto, 54, blamed rogue elements in the ISI for a suicide bombing that killed 140 people at a rally shortly after her return in October. There were reports last night that just weeks ago, she had sent UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband a private e-mail naming three senior members of government who, she said, wanted her dead.
The source said: "The ISI was responsible for setting up the Taliban during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and there remain parts of the ISI who are desperate to see the Taliban back in power there. They hope that if this happens, it will pave the way for an Islamist state in Pakistan."
Today, Bhutto's 19-year-old son Bilawal will read out his mother's will in a public demonstration that the Bhutto dynasty is still alive. The first-year Oxford University undergraduate is expected by many to be thrust into the forefront of her Pakistan People's Party in the forthcoming elections, due for January 8.
"What will cause major problems is that whoever from Whitehall is involved in those discussions, whether it be mandarins or SIS (MI6], they are dealing with precisely the very people who are, in some quarters, being blamed for being behind the killing of Benazir Bhutto."
Bhutto supporters yesterday dismissed as "ludicrous" a government theory that the former leaded had died after hitting her head on a sunroof and accused the government of a "cover-up" over the real culprits.
Interior ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema reiterated the government's claim that Islamic militant leader Baitullah Mehsud was behind Bhutto's killing. Yesterday Mehsud's spokesman contacted a news agency to issue a denial. But Cheema insisted: "We have the evidence that he is involved." He also declined any foreign aid to help investigate the killing.
Rioting continued yesterday but there were no signs that the violence was escalating. Doubts remain over whether the planned elections will go ahead.
• Meanwhile, in a taped video message, Osama bin Laden has pledged to expand al-Qaeda's attacks against Israel. During a 56-minute recording broadcast yesterday, he said: "I would like to assure our people in Palestine we will expand our jihad there. We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the (Jordan] river to the sea." He threatened "blood for blood, destruction for destruction".