Bhutto Remains Resolute Despite Attacks

Mourners attend a funeral for two policemen killed in attacks in Karachi, Pakistan. i i

Mourners on Friday take part in a funeral ceremony for two policemen killed in a suicide attack on former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi, Pakistan. Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty
Mourners attend a funeral for two policemen killed in attacks in Karachi, Pakistan.

Mourners on Friday take part in a funeral ceremony for two policemen killed in a suicide attack on former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi, Pakistan.

Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty
Analysis: Bhutto's Political Prospects

The massive bombings in Karachi shattered what had been a triumphant homecoming for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but they are unlikely to stop her return to the spotlight of Pakistani politics. Read an analysis.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto vowed Friday to carry on with her plans for a democratic Pakistan, despite a midnight attack that left more than 100 people dead.

One of Pakistan's top security officials blamed Islamic extremists for two bombings that killed up to 136 during Bhutto's homecoming procession late Thursday.

"We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover," Bhutto told a news conference. "We are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberty, but we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants."

Interior Minister Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem said the attack bore the hallmarks of militants allied with pro-Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud and al-Qaida.

Local media reports this month quoted Mehsud as vowing to meet Bhutto's return to Pakistan with suicide attacks. An associate of Mehsud, however, denied Taliban involvement

Bhutto Received Warning

Bhutto said there were two attackers in the deadly bombing and that her security guards found a third man armed with a pistol and another with a suicide vest. Ahead of her arrival, she said, she was warned suicide squads were dispatched to kill her.

"There was one suicide squad from the Taliban elements, one suicide squad from al-Qaida, one suicide squad from Pakistani Taliban and a fourth — a group — I believe from Karachi," she said.

Bhutto said her guards prevented more carnage.

"They stood their ground and they stood all around the truck, and they refused to let the suicide bomber — the second suicide bomber — get near the truck," she said.

Bhutto blamed militants for the attack, which drew international condemnation.

Bhutto's convoy moved for 10 hours toward the center of Karachi with supporters thronging her armored truck when a small explosion erupted near the front of the vehicle. That was quickly followed by a larger blast that destroyed two police vans escorting the procession.

Bhutto did not blame the government, but said it was suspicious that streetlights failed after sunset Thursday when her convoy was inching its way through the streets of Karachi. She said attempts to reach the national security adviser to have the lights restored were unsuccessful — phone lines were also apparently down.

"I'm not accusing the government, but certain individuals who abuse their positions and powers," she said. "We were scanning the crowd with the floodlights, but it was difficult to scan the crowds because there was so much darkness."

Mohtarem, the top security official in the province where the attack took place, suggested that Bhutto's camp had not seriously considered the need for security for her return after eight years in exile.

"They got carried away by political exigencies instead of taking our concern seriously," he said.

Bhutto claimed the next attack against her would target her homes in Karachi and her hometown of Larkana, using attackers posing as supporters of a rival political faction. She said militants had "gained strength" but the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan should not delay elections slated for January.

"We have to do the best that we can to restore democracy ... so people can stand up as the guardians of their society," Bhutto said.

Death Estimates Vary

Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi said that 113 people died, including 20 policemen, and 300 people were wounded. Officials at six hospitals in Karachi reported 136 dead and around 250 wounded.

Manzur Mughal, the Karachi police officer in charge of the investigation, said detectives had established that a young man who threw a grenade blew himself up 22 seconds later next to the truck.

Although Bhutto was not injured, the explosions turned her jubilant homecoming parade into a scene of carnage, ripping victims apart and hurling a fireball into the sky. The attack shattered the windows of her truck.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said he was shocked by the attack and condemned it in the strongest possible terms. He said the blast was part of a "conspiracy against democracy," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan said.

Bhutto has made enemies of Islamic militants by taking a pro-American line and negotiating a possible moderate, U.S.-friendly alliance with Musharraf, a longtime political rival despite their shared liberal values. The attack cast a pall over Bhutto's talks with Musharraf and possible plans for such an alliance. Leaders of her party were meeting at her Karachi residence and Bhutto was expected to hold a news conference afterward.

It remained unclear whether the attack would stiffen the two leaders' resolve to fight militancy together or strain already bad relations between Bhutto and the ruling party.

Musharraf won re-election to the presidency in a vote this month by lawmakers that is being challenged in the Supreme Court. If he is confirmed for a new five-year presidential term, Musharraf has promised to quit the military and restore civilian rule.

Bhutto plans to contest parliamentary elections due in January, and has ambitions to win a third term as prime minister.

After consultation with political parties, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that he has asked the government to make the election campaign short amid concern that large gatherings could be vulnerable to attacks. Police put Thursday's crowd at 150,000.

Investigation Underway

Musharraf appealed for calm and promised an exhaustive investigation and stiff punishment for those responsible, APP reported.

Police collected forensic evidence including pieces of flesh and shoes from the site of the bombing. The truck Bhutto carrying was hoisted away using a crane. One side bearing a big portrait of the former premier was spattered with blood and riddled with shrapnel holes.

Sherpao, who said 18 police were killed, asserted that authorities had done everything possible to protect the huge gathering of Bhutto supporters marking her return, but noted that electronic jammers fitted to the police escort vehicles were ineffective against a manually detonated bomb.

On the eve of Bhutto's arrival, a provincial government official cited intelligence reports that three suicide bombers linked to Mehsud — probably the most prominent leader of Islamic militants destabilizing its northwestern border regions near Afghanistan — were in Karachi. The local government had also warned Bhutto could be targeted by Taliban or al-Qaida.

Mehsud's spokesman could not be reached for comment, but an alleged associate of the militant commander, Isa Khan, denied Taliban involvement.

"The government's secret agencies are involved in it. Taliban have no part in it," Khan told an AP reporter by phone from the volatile northwestern tribal town of Bannu, where he is believed to command pro-Taliban militants loyal to Mehsud.

"This was an effort to provoke common people and create hatred against the Taliban. We do not do anything that harm common people," he said.

Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, said on Dawn News television that he suspected that "elements sitting within the government" who would lose out if Bhutto returned to power were involved in the attack.

He didn't elaborate, though Bhutto has accused conservatives in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party and the security services of secretly supporting religious extremists.

Bhutto Remains Resolute

Musharraf's camp has sounded conciliatory.

Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi said he doubted the attack would deflect Bhutto from her course.

"If someone thinks that by spreading this kind of terror they will stop the political process in Pakistan, I don't think that's correct, I don't think that will happen," Qureshi told the AP.

Musharraf believes that "all political forces need to combine to face this threat which is basically the major, major issue that faces Pakistan," he said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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