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Search for suspects in deadly attack against Bhutto

Pakistani officials point to jihadists, while former minister's husband accuses intelligence agency of blast which left 136 dead.

By / October 19, 2007

Accusations are flying in the aftermath of deadly twin bomb blasts targeting former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Pakistani officials blame militants with links to Al Qaeda, while members of Ms. Bhutto's party charged government intelligence forces with the attack.

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The Associated Press reports that Pakistani officials said pro-Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud may be responsible for the attack, which did not injure Ms. Bhutto but left at least 136 people dead and 250 wounded. They also suggested that members of Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), may have ignored the threat of such an attack.

The "signature at the blast site and the modus operandi" suggested the involvement of militants linked to warlord Baitullah Mehsud and al-Qaida, said Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem, the head security official in the province where Mehsud is based.
"We were already fearing a strike from Mehsud and his local affiliates and this were conveyed to the (Bhutto's Pakistan's) People's Party but they got carried away by political exigencies instead of taking our concern seriously," Mohtarem said.

But CNN reports that Islamic extremists are only one possibility, noting that factions within the Pakistani government may have had motives for the attack as well.

"The primary suspects, of course, are the al Qaeda-Taliban alliances because they have named her as a primary target. She stands for democracy, she stands for a pro-Western position in Pakistan politics and, of course, her gender," [Akbar Ahmed, former Pakistani ambassador to the United Kingdom,] said. "At the same time, don't forget there's a history of bad blood between her party and the intelligence services."

Mr. Ahmed added that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would likely use the attack to secure his political power.

"[Mr. Musharraf] will say, 'I told you so, He will tell Washington I told you so. He will tell Benazir Bhutto I told you so. This is not the time for you to come back, stay out let me handle the administration, let me be the strong man,' " Ahmed said.

Members of Bhutto's party have pointed a finger at the government, reports the Daily Times of Pakistan. According to a PPP senator, Bhutto demanded that the government fire the chief of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, Ijaz Shah, over the blasts. Bhutto's husband, meanwhile, told a Pakistani television station that he thought the government, not terrorists, were to blame for the bombing.

He said the PPP was a democratic party and was not a threat to jihadi elements. He said some ministers were also on the hit list of jihadi elements. He said he knew some people sitting in the government who could possibly be behind these blasts. But, he said, he would not disclose their names "as only Ms Bhutto would reveal these names". Zardari said Ms Bhutto would talk to the media on Friday (today).