The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto
February 2008

by John Moore

© AP Photo/Richard Drew

As the sole American journalist present at the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in late December, Getty Images' senior staff photographer John Moore was interviewed extensively by U.S. and international media following the event. What follows, however, is his only written account of that traumatic day, reprinted from Getty Images' News Blog.

She came out waving and smiling and standing up through the sunroof of her armored car. I couldn't believe it then and I still can't today.

I was actually walking away at the time. The campaign rally had finished and I had squeezed through the single narrow gate of the fenced park. I wanted to get ahead of the throngs of Benazir Bhutto supporters. But when I heard a cheer erupt, I turned around, and there she was.

© John Moore / Getty Images
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto waves from her car just seconds before being attacked on Dec. 27, 2007 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The opposition leader is believed to have died from a bullet wound to the neck after speaking at a rally in the northern city. An estimated 15 people were left dead by a subsequent explosion, party officials and Bhutto's husband have been quoted as saying.
I pushed my way back 50 yards through the frenzied mob of devotees. Shoving past people to get close to her vehicle, I shot 15 frames just in front of her car, photos of her waving goodbye to her supporters.

As the former prime minister's car surged forward, I pushed out of the way, ahead of her vehicle. I needed to adjust my camera. In the melee, the shutter setting had been bumped down to 1/15 and 1/8 of a second, giving the photos an unintended impressionistic look.

I turned on my flash, but before resetting the camera, I turned and glanced back at her car.

Just then I heard three shots, which sounded as if they were fired from close to her car. I watched her drop down through the sunroof, and I raised my camera, my finger pressed down on the shutter release.

Just as the camera came up in front of my face, the bomb went off.

© John Moore / Getty Images
A bomb explodes next to the vehicle of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27, 2007 following a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The opposition leader allegedly died from a bullet wound to the neck after speaking at a rally in the northern city.
The suicide bomber had set off his charge behind her car. The camera caught the blast itself and the horrible debris it spewed into the air: pieces of car, chunks of cement—human flesh. The boom was deafening, but her car – and the bodies of her supporters – shielded me from the force of the blast. I was about 20 yards from the explosion, maybe less.

The bomb triggered an immediate stampede of survivors and I was momentarily swept up in the exodus. I shot a blur of people as I, too, got pushed back in the wave of panic.

As the crowd fled behind me, and Bhutto's damaged vehicle sped past, a tableau of carnage spread out before my lens. Corpses – some of them in pieces – littered the ground. Wounded survivors, some shrieking, most silent, looked up from the pavement, trying to make sense of the violent flash that had just changed their lives.

A man in a tan suit, one of his pant legs blown off, sat straightening his hair before being carried away. Two policemen stood over a badly wounded colleague, staring at him in disbelief. They didn't seem to know what to do.

© John Moore / Getty Images
A survivor is overcome with emotion at the site of a bomb blast attack on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27, 2007 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
An anguished man in a brown jacket entered my field of vision just a minute after the blast, screaming, walking amidst the corpses and cradling the wounded survivors. I spent some time photographing him, but he never seemed to notice me. He was in total shock.

Other photographers who had been delayed by the fleeing crowds arrived on the scene. One later told me that he saw me hopping from place to place through the blood and body parts, watching my step. Much was too gruesome to photograph.

After a few minutes, ambulances began to arrive, sirens wailing and horns honking as they pushed through the crowd. The most badly injured were carried to the vehicles before the stretchers could even be brought out.

That day, just 18 seconds passed between my first photo of Bhutto waving from her car and the bomb blast, followed by just 10 minutes or so of aftermath, the last images illuminated by the fading sunlight. Most of the photos were taken at a grainy 1600 ISO, including the most widely published pictures of the anguished man in the brown jacket.

Eventually, I thought to check my cell phone and there were half a dozen missed calls, mostly from my wife who was desperately trying to find out if I was okay.

I found my driver, who also narrowly escaped being injured, and we waded into rush hour traffic that seemed incongruously normal. I distracted myself from the slow pace by reviewing the day's photos on the back of the camera and wishing I'd done a better job.

© John Moore

John Moore, 40, from Irving, Texas, is a senior staff photographer for Getty Images, based in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he has lived with his family for more than 2 1/2 years. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in late 1990, Moore began his international career with The Associated Press. During almost 14 years with the AP, he was based in Nicaragua, India, South Africa, Mexico and Egypt, and photographed in more than 80 countries on five continents. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Moore has extensively covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, covering the U.S. and British military in the some of the world's most dangerous combat zones. Since joining Getty in 2005, Moore has worked throughout South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, covering the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006.

Moore has won photography awards from the Overseas Press Club, The Society of Professional Journalists, World Press and was on a team whose coverage of the war in Iraq won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

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