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.

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.

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).

The Guardian reports that the attack occurred despite extensive security measures taken by government officials. The explosions, which occurred just after midnight as Bhutto's caravan traveled through crowds of supporters, were recorded by local television stations.

Television footage showed onlookers running towards the vehicle after the first blast, only to be caught in the second explosion. Party official Qasim Zia said Ms Bhutto had descended into the vehicle to use the bathroom at the time of the explosion.
... Around 20,000 security personnel lined the route and sophisticated anti-bomb jamming devices were fitted to her vehicle. Mobile phone signals were blocked in the area and armed bodyguards accompanied the truck. The rooftop had been fitted with a bullet-proof enclosure but she spent most of the day standing at the front, chatting to party officials and waving to wellwishers. Many of the dead were thought to be police and party security officials who had formed a moving security cordon around the vehicle. A local television cameraman also died.

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports that evidence at the scene indicated that at least one of the explosions was caused by a suicide bomber.

Sources told Dawn that a man came running to Ms Benazir's vehicle shouting "bomb, bomb", causing the participants of the rally to panic. He blew up explosives as he neared the vehicle. The explosion caused the petrol tank of a nearby vehicle to explode, leaving a police van damaged. The enraged participants of the rally thought that the explosives were planted in the police van and started venting their anger on the personnel of law-enforcement agencies. As semblance of normality returned, police officials started taking stock of the situation.

Reuters quotes Manzoor Mughal, a senior police official, who offered a similar account. "The first blast was caused by a hand grenade. The second was the suicide attack," he said. "The attacker ran into the crowd and blew himself up."

Agence France-Presse reports that the attack was denounced by nations around the world, including the US, the European Union, Russia, and China. Regional neighbors Afghanistan and India, which have both suffered terrorist attacks linked to Islamic extremists, also expressed their condolences to Pakistan and voiced their support in the fight against terrorism.

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