RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — The Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated near the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday. Witnesses said Ms. Bhutto, who was appearing at a political campaign rally, was fired upon at close range by a gunman, and then struck by shrapnel from a blast that the government said was caused by a suicide bomber.
Ms. Bhutto, who had twice been the country’s prime minister and was a leading contender to be the next prime minister after elections set for Jan. 8, was declared dead by doctors at a hospital in Rawalpindi at 6:16 p.m. local time. At least a dozen more people were killed in the attack, and some reports said there were at least 20 dead.
The exact circumstances surrounding the assassination were still unclear. Senior officials in Ms. Bhutto’s party said she was leaving after addressing the rally and stood up, putting her head through a window in the roof to wave at the crowd when she was hit in the head by a sniper in a nearby building. Witnesses said that they heard two or three shots in total, and that the car moved on for another 50 yards before a suicide attacker blew himself up.
Other witnesses described a single assassin opening fire on Ms. Bhutto and her entourage, hitting her at least once in the neck and once in the chest, before blowing himself up. Dr. Abbas Hayat, a professor of pathology at Rawalpindi General Hospital where Ms. Bhutto was taken, said that doctors tried to revive her for 35 minutes but that she had shrapnel wounds and head injuries and was in heart failure. He said he could not confirm whether she had bullet injuries.