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Musharraf survives twin blasts; 14 people killed

Pakistani President survived an assassination bid when suicide car bombers attacked his motorcade. The attack in graphics

india Updated: Apr 14, 2004 15:44 IST

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday survived a second assassination bid in less than two weeks when suicide car bombers attacked his motorcade, killing 14 persons and wounding 46.

The blasts, which took place on the same main road in Rawalpindi where the General narrowly escaped a massive explosion on December 14, damaged the president's Mercedes. "The windshield was hit by some splinters but the president was unhurt," government spokesperson and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said on state TV.

Rashid said Musharraf was on the way to his Army residence in Rawalpindi after attending a function in Islamabad.

According to AFP, two explosives-laden vehicles, with suicide bombers at their wheels, were waiting at two petrol stations just 50 metres apart.

An eyewitness, Nasir Siddiqui, told reporters at the site that he was at the first pump when Musharraf's convoy passed. "I saw a Suzuki van suddenly come on the road and hit a black Mercedes just behind Musharraf's car," he said. The explosion damaged several vehicles in the convoy.

Siddiqui, who survived the explosion, added: "After a few seconds I heard another blast and saw body parts of people flying in the air."

Both petrol stations were completely destroyed. The explosions shattered windows across a wide area and damaged overhead electricity cables, disrupting power supply in the area.

A senior police official later told state media that each of the two vehicles which rammed the president's motorcade were carrying about 25-30 kilograms of explosives, reported AFP.

Most people who died were civilians either passing by or filling petrol, said Rashid. A soldier and three policeman were among the dead.

"It was a security lapse. It was Christmas and there was a worldwide alert. We should have made some extra arrangements," he said.

Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said, "This may be an attempt by disgruntled elements who do not want to see the Saarc summit to be held and want Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to cancel his visit."

Appearing on state TV, Musharraf said the attack on his life had only strengthened his resolve and mission to eliminate terrorism and extremism from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali called an emergency Cabinet meeting after the blast and appealed to the public to identify the plotters.

Officials probing the December 14 assassination attempt said it was definitely the work of the Al-Qaeda.

Investigators said five bombs planted on a bridge had failed to explode while Musharraf's convoy was passing over because the radio-jamming device deployed by his security team had blocked all wireless communications in a radius of 200 metres. The bombs ripped up a section of the bridge seconds after the convoy had passed.

India was quick to condemn Thursday’s "heinous terrorist attack". Afghanistan's government also expressed relief that the plot had failed.

Thursday's blasts marked the third near-miss for Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

Three men were sentenced to 10 years hard labour in October for their part in the first plot, in which a truck-bomb was left on the path of Musharraf's motorcade during a visit to Karachi.

The attempt, in April last year, failed because a remote-controlled device detonator malfunctioned.

WHERE

Musharraf regularly takes main road between Islamabad and Pindi to shuttle between office and home

HOW

2.15 p.m IST: Van with 25 kg of explosives rushes out of petrol pump on main Rawalpindi road and tries to ram president’s Mercedes but hits car just behind. Blast damages General’s car

Seconds later: Back-up suicide van at another petrol pump, 50 m ahead, tries to plough into convoy but hits a parked police vehicle. Massive explosion damages three cars

WHY NOW?

Saarc repellent: Indo-Pak relations are on the mend. Interior Minister Faisal Hayat says disgruntled elements in Pak want to sabotage January Saarc summit

Al-Qaeda backlash: General has too many enemies. His crackdown on terror has led to dozens of Al-Qaeda operatives landing in America’s net

First Published: Dec 29, 2003 00:00 IST