The Pakistani government said today it has intercepted a message from an al Qaeda leader congratulating al Qaeda fighters for the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. An Interior Ministry spokesman says the message came from a militant leader who commands pro-Taliban forces in a Pakistani tribal region where al Qaeda fighters are active.
The announcement came hours after Bhutto was laid to rest after an emotional funeral and a night of violence that has left at least 23 dead across the country.
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said that today the government recorded an "intelligence intercept" in which militant leader Baitullah Mehsud "congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act," The Associated Press reported.
Also today, the government disputed reports that Bhutto had died from gunshot wounds. Citing video that apparently shows the incident, the Interior Ministry says Bhutto died after hitting her head on the car she was riding in. The ministry says three shots fired by an assassain missed, but the shock wave from the subsequent bomb blast, knocked Bhutto's head into a protrusion on the edge of the sunroof.
Bhuto's three children, husband and hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis gathered this morning to mourn as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest.
There was grief and anger and pain as many reached out to touch the plain wooden casket as it passed through the streets of her hometown, in southern Pakistan, right past a burning train set ablaze overnight by protesters.
Bhutto was laid to rest in her family mausoleum next to her father, Zulfikar Al Bhutto, who was executed in 1979, after a military coup.
Some wept, others could be heard chanting "Benazir is alive," as the coffin was placed inside the white marble mausoleum.
Around the country and throughout the night, her supporters protested, ransacking banks, exchanging gunshots with police and setting cars, buses and trains on fire.
At least 23 people have been killed in the aftermath of her death, The Associated Press reported.
Bhutto was killed as she left a political rally she was conducting. Her death comes less than two weeks before a crucial election in which Bhutto was the main opposition candidate rivaling Pakistani's current president, Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf, who called for three days of mourning after the killing, has so far not announced any plans to delay the elections. After Bhutto's death, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he would boycott the election.
The assassination has plunged the country into chaos and severely damaged U.S. plans to restore democracy to the nuclear-armed nation.
During a televised speech to the nation, he pledged to find the people responsible and "we will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out."
"Within hours of her death there were postings on the Internet claiming Al Qaeda was behind the assassination. Certainly Al Qaeda is considered the major suspect in her assassination," said ABC News' Brian Ross.
Earlier this month, Al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, released a video in which he told Pakistanis to oppose Bhutto.
"I heard a few gunshots. She [Bhutto] fell down into the vehicle and quickly there after there was a bomb blast," said eyewitness John Moore, a photographer for Getty Images who took one of the last photos of Bhutto, standing through her car's sun roof waving to supporters as she left the rally.
Bhutto was a champion of women's rights and a friend of the West. Thousands of protesters in the street have been calling for Musharraf's resignation, even for his death.
"God willing, the dog Musharraf will die the same way," said one man attending Bhutto's funeral.
Bhutto returned to Pakistan just two months ago, encouraged by U.S. officials who hoped she could get the country back on the road to democracy.
"U.S. officials say they now consider Pakistan to be at a tipping point," Ross said.
Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally in the region, on the front line of the War on Terror, and instability in that nation will mean dramatic consequences for U.S. foreign policy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.