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Attempt on Musharraf's life blamed on Al-Qaeda men

Al-Qaeda and religious fanatics are being blamed for an increasingly organised effort to kill Pak prez

india Updated: Dec 29, 2003 17:48 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Al-Qaeda militants and religious fanatics are blamed to be behind an increasingly organised effort to kill Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, analysts said, following the second assassination attempt in 11 days.

Musharraf escaped death on Thursday when suicide bombers rammed his motorcade with two bomb-laden cars at a petrol station two kilometres from his residence in Rawalpindi, adjoining Islamabad, killing 14 people and injuring 46 others.

Ruling party Senator Mushahid Hussain called the attacks a "matter of deep concern," especially since the latest bid was made near Musharraf's residence, in the heart of an area controlled by the military, which he leads.

"It shows an organised group is chasing him," he said, while an interior ministry official called the attacks a "new trend," saying that suicide bombings were not common in Pakistan.

The attacks mirrored a similar incident on December 14 when a powerful explosion missed the president's motorcade by seconds on a bridge, also in Rawalpindi.

"The broad and almost sure guess is that it could be a nexus between Al-Qaeda and extremist militant groups here," analyst Talat Masood said.

"They seem to be determined— look at their audacity, boldness and precision (in carrying out) the attacks."

Masood, a former army lieutenant general, said militants want to make Pakistan a fortress for Jihad (holy war).

"These groups might see the present policies of Musharraf as detrimental to their interests. They want to eliminate him, thinking that the next guy will be too scared to check their activities."

Musharraf himself said late yesterday the attacks could be in response to Pakistan's role in the US-led war against terrorism, and blamed unnamed "terrorists and extremists" for the bombings.

"There is a very strong possibility of this. We are fighting a war against terrorism, but we will not lose courage," he said on state television hours after the bombings.

Soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, blamed on Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, Musharraf abandoned Afghanistan's Taliban and offered military bases to the US-led campaign that toppled the neighbouring country's hardline regime in late 2001.

Since then Pakistani security forces have captured more than 500 suspected Al-Qaeda members, including three close Bin Laden allies, and handed a majority of them over to US authorities.

Calling for "enlightened moderation" Musharraf has also launched a campaign against religious militancy and banned 13 extremist and sectarian groups.

First Published: Dec 29, 2003 12:00 IST