A Pakistani who played a central role in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 was also behind two failed attempts last December to assassinate Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, three senior Pakistani officials said Thursday.
The first of the attempts, on Dec. 14, involved more than a dozen low-ranking Air Force technicians, the officials said. They said some of the technicians placed large quantities of C-4 plastic explosive under a bridge that was used by Musharraf's motorcade in Rawalpindi, about 10 miles from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
The technicians were recruited and supplied with the explosives by Amjad Farooqi, a Pakistani militant with links to al Qaeda, said the officials, who are involved in the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity. They also identified Farooqi as having helped force Pearl into a vehicle when he was kidnapped in Karachi on the night of Jan. 23, 2002. Farooqi was present when Pearl was beheaded by his captors, the officials said.
Farooqi also orchestrated a second attempt against Musharraf in Rawalpindi on Dec. 25, when two suicide bombers tried to ram their explosive-laden vehicles into the general's armored limousine, missing their target but killing 16 others, the officials said.
"Amjad Farooqi . . . is now the most wanted man in Pakistan," one of the officials said. "We need to catch him to break the back of al Qaeda and terrorism in Pakistan."
The disclosures are significant for several reasons. They underscore the continued threat to Musharraf and his government from al Qaeda, or those with ties to it, more than 21/2 years after Musharraf pledged his support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. And they demonstrate a potential threat to Musharraf from al Qaeda sympathizers within the military.
Musharraf acknowledged in a television interview Thursday with the private Geo network that junior air force and army personnel were involved in the Dec. 14 attempt on his life. "We know exactly who was involved," as well as the "entire picture of both the actions," Musharraf said.
Musharraf said the suspects had been captured and would soon be put on trial. Some of the suspects were not motivated by religious beliefs, he said, but by money.
Musharraf said the only plotter not in custody was the one who orchestrated the attempts, adding, "We know exactly who he is."
Although Musharraf did not give a name, the three senior officials identified him as Farooqi, a member of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-i-Mohammed. Farooqi is one of seven Pakistanis who were indicted in the Pearl case. Four of the seven have been convicted.
Pakistani officials have said that Jaish-i-Mohammed and another militant group, Lashkar-i-Jangvi, carried out the crime with assistance from al Qaeda members, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a top lieutenant in the terror organization who was captured in Rawalpindi in March 2003. He has since been turned over to the United States.
In 1999, the Pakistani officials said, Farooqi was one of the hijackers of an Indian Airlines jet to Kandahar, Afghanistan. In exchange for the passengers and crew, Indian authorities freed Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-i-Mohammed, and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born militant who has been sentenced to death in the Pearl case.
Farooqi recruited the Air Force technicians from Chaklala air base in Rawalpindi with the help of other religious extremists, including three clerics, according to the three officials. Farooqi then arranged to provide the technicians with the plastic explosive from a supply kept by al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the officials said.
The first assassination attempt involved the Lai bridge, over which Musharraf's motorcade regularly passed. Investigators said they were stunned to learn that over the course of two days that the air force technicians were able to make several trips to the bridge to wire explosives to its pillars without being observed by police or military intelligence.
"We can say that the first attempt was a near exclusive job of more than a dozen Pakistan air force brainwashed technicians who lived nearby in a PAF residential facility," one of the officials said.
The explosives did not detonate until after Musharraf's vehicle passed over the bridge because his motorcade was equipped with electronic jammers that interfered with the remote-control device that was supposed to set them off, the officials said. When Farooqi and his co-conspirators learned from media reports that the jammers had thwarted their attempt, they decided to use suicide bombers for a second try on Dec. 25, the officials said.
"It was a compartmentalized operation, and the PAF technicians had no idea about the suicide attack that followed their failed bid to blow up the president's car over the Lai bridge," one of the officials said.
In the second attempt, the would-be assassins were tipped to the progress of Musharraf's motorcade by a police official assigned to Rawalpindi's Civil Lines police station, the officials said.
Lancaster reported from New Delhi.