Suicide Blast Kills 6 in Pakistan
Officials Cite Islamic Militants In Attack on Premier-Designate
By Kamran Khan
Special to the Washington Post
Saturday, July 31, 2004; Page A14
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 30 -- A suicide bomber killed at least six people and wounded at least 25 others Friday in an assassination attempt targeting Pakistan's prime minister-designate after a political campaign rally in Punjab province, 35 miles southwest of the capital.
The attack, blamed by officials on Islamic militants, came a day after authorities announced the capture of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a senior al Qaeda suspect, and described the arrest as "a major blow" to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. Ghailani had been sought by the United States in connection with the 1998 bombing attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The prime minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz, was not hurt when an assailant approached his armored Mercedes and set off the explosion. Aziz was in the back seat of the car, which was parked in a crowded area after the rally in the town of Fateh Jang, said Tahir Sadiq, the town's mayor, who was sitting in the car next to Aziz.
The mayor also escaped injury, but the driver, who had not gotten into the car, was killed, Sadiq said in a telephone interview. The blast sprayed shrapnel into a crowd of supporters, and at least seven people were seriously wounded.
"It's an absolute miracle that Mr. Aziz escaped this suicide bombing," Sadiq said. "A large space around the car was turned into a small pool of blood."
Two hours after the attack, Aziz told a gathering of supporters outside his Islamabad home that he was all right and would "continue to serve the country with the same commitment and determination." About a dozen heavily armed Pakistani soldiers arrived shortly afterward to guard the residence, local reporters said.
Aziz, Pakistan's finance minister, was named prime minister by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, on June 26. Aziz, 55, a former Citibank executive, is expected to take office following parliamentary elections on Aug. 18.
The suicide bombing followed two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December. Those attacks were blamed on Pakistani militants linked to al Qaeda, and Musharraf blamed Islamic extremists for the attack on Friday.
"These cowardly acts will not deter us from our fight against terror. Such dastardly acts are against the tenets and teachings of Islam," Musharraf said in a statement.
Islamic groups and political parties have denounced Musharraf's decision to nominate Aziz as a gesture toward the Bush administration.
"The pro-U.S. president and the prime minister would enforce the American agenda in the region," Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, an Islamic party leader, said in a statement in the national assembly.
After examining the scene of the bombing, Pakistani intelligence officials said the attack did not appear to be related to local politics.
"Apparently this can't be anything other than a terrorist response to our current battle against the local religious terrorists and al Qaeda suspects in this country," said a senior Pakistani intelligence official on condition of anonymity. "We can't ignore the fact that it has happened a couple of days after our major success against al Qaeda."
Officials said Ghailani's arrest Sunday was carried out in a joint operation with U.S. intelligence agencies.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company