Escapes Second Attempt on Life
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Suicide attackers detonated two massive
bombs as President Pervez Musharraf's convoy passed on a congested
road Thursday, killing 14 people and getting close enough to crack
the windshield on his limousine in the second attempt on his life
in 11 days.
Musharraf, 60, was unhurt, but the attack — just a few hundred
yards from the site of the previous bombing — raised troubling
questions about the Pakistani leader's ability to hold on to power
and keep an Islamic radical movement at bay. It came a day after
Musharraf made a deal with hard-line Islamic political parties
to step down as army chief by the end of next year.
In a televised interview about seven hours after the attack, the
president — a close ally in the U.S. war on terrorism —
blamed Islamic militants for both attacks and vowed to "cleanse
the country of these extremists."
Officials said the attackers tried to ram the motorcade in two
pickup trucks, each loaded with 45 to 65 pounds of explosives,
as it passed two gas stations on a main road at about 1:40 p.m.
in Rawalpindi, a bustling city near the capital, Islamabad. Witnesses
reported seeing body parts, shattered cars and broken glass along
"There was a vehicle that approached me, my car," Musharraf
said. "A policeman stopped it, it exploded, I saw it. The
only thing happened was we went faster, but in the process in
front of us there was another bomb that blasted. Again nothing
happened to us and we went through the debris. We stopped safe
He appeared calm, wearing a navy-blue business suit.
Two policemen and at least two suicide attackers were among those
killed, said Abdur Rauf Chaudry, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
At least 46 people were wounded, including several police officials
traveling in a van at the back of Musharraf's motorcade.
It happened just just 10 days ahead of a summit of South Asian
leaders to be held in Islamabad, and on the same road where a
bomb Dec. 14 also narrowly missed the president.
In the first attempt, high-tech devices in Musharraf's limousine
apparently delayed the explosion by jamming the bomb's electronic
trigger. Thursday's attackers tried to leave nothing to chance,
turning themselves into human bombs.
Musharraf uses the route nearly every day to get from work to
office. But the fact that attackers could twice get so close to
the heavily guarded leader raised serious concerns about his security
— and increased speculation that somebody close to Musharraf
might have been in on the planning.
"There has been a security lapse," said Information
Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. "Authorities will investigate,
but there has definitely been a lapse."
"It appears that an organized group is chasing the president.
The security system has absolutely collapsed," ruling party
Sen. Syed Mushahid Hussain told the private GEO television network.
No suspects have been identified in either attack, although Musharraf
has blamed both on Islamic extremists angered by his support for
the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan (news - web sites).
Pakistan backed Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime before
Musharraf switched sides following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The attacks also raised questions about the murky issue of succession
in this nuclear-armed nation.
A pro-American four-star general, Mohammed Yousaf Khan, is next
in line to take command of the army. Musharraf's ally, Zafarullah
Khan Jamali, is prime minister but with little power.
Musharraf still enjoys popular support after ousting the ineffective
government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless 1999
In April last year a bomb aimed at his motorcade in the southern
city of Karachi failed to detonate. Three Islamic militants were
sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The latest attack came a day after Musharraf agreed with a coalition
of Islamic parties on a timetable for stepping down as army chief
but staying on as president. The deal ended a stalemate that had
paralyzed parliament and stalled this nation's return to democracy.
Musharraf expressed grief at the loss of life in Thursday's attack
and said he would do all he could to help the victims' families.
"I know this tragedy happened to them because of me,"
Among frantic relatives and friends of the victims gathered outside
Rawalpindi Central Hospital, a man identifying himself as Iqbal
accused Musharraf's government of creating the conditions for
"This military rule created the terrorists and they are
facing the consequences now," he said. "A lot of the
people who were hurt and killed in this bombing were just walking
on the street. They don't care about politics."
Sadaqat Jan and Matthew Pennington in Islamabad contributed to