ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Officials have identified the body of one of three suicide attackers who detonated bombs in a devastating attack that barely missed the convoy of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and killed 14 people, the interior minister said Friday.
The attack Thursday — the second attempt on Musharraf’s life in 11 days — wounded 46, including several police officers in the president’s motorcade.
Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat declined to release the bomber’s name, citing security reasons. Earlier, the top government spokesman said evidence from the scene of Thursday’s attack suggested the bombers were not Pakistani.
Musharraf, 60, was unhurt in the attack that happened just a few hundred yards from the site of the previous bombing Dec. 14 in Rawalpindi, a bustling city near the capital, Islamabad. However, it marked a serious security lapse coming little more than a week before seven South Asian leaders were to hold a summit meeting in Islamabad.
Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali Friday said that the Jan. 4-6 summit would go ahead as planned. Officials from Nepal and Sri Lanka confirmed Friday their leaders still planned to attend.
Close call for Musharraf
Initially, officials said only two attackers tried to ram the president’s motorcade in two pickups — each loaded with 45 to 65 pounds of explosives. They got close enough to crack the windshield on Musharraf’s limousine.
Witnesses told police the attackers had small beards and long hair. “This will help in drawing up sketches of the attackers,” Ahmed said.
In a televised interview late Thursday, the president — a close ally in the U.S. war on terrorism — blamed Islamic militants for the recent assassination attempts against him and vowed to “cleanse the country of these extremists,” calling them enemies of Islam and Pakistan.
“I fought wars, I fought a lot of skirmishes also — I don’t run away,” he said.
Some officials have speculated al-Qaida had a hand in the first assassination attempt — a sophisticated bomb planted in five places beneath a bridge. But no suspects have been identified.
High-tech devices in Musharraf’s limousine apparently delayed the explosion by jamming the bomb’s electronic trigger and no one was hurt. Thursday’s attackers tried to leave nothing to chance, turning themselves into human bombs.
Extremists in stiff opposition
Islamic extremists have been angered by the president’s support for the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan backed Afghanistan’s hard-line Taliban regime before Musharraf switched sides following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In an audiotape aired late September, a voice attributed to Ayman al-Zawahri — Osama bin Laden’s chief deputy — described Musharraf as a “traitor” for helping the United States topple the Taliban, and urged Muslims in Pakistan to “uproot” him.
However, the latest bombing came a day after Musharraf made a deal with hard-line Islamic political parties to step down as army chief by the end of next year.
The deal, in which Musharraf would stay on as president, ended a stalemate that had paralyzed Parliament and stalled this nation’s return to democracy. Parliament was set to debate Friday proposed changes of the president’s powers.
Ahmed said investigators were piecing together parts of vehicles they believe were used in Thursday’s attack to determine the chassis numbers and trace the owners.
“There was a vehicle that approached me, my car,” Musharraf said Thursday. “A policeman stopped it, it exploded, I saw it. The only thing happened was we went faster, but in the process in front of us there was another bomb that blasted. Again nothing happened to us and we went through the debris.”
The fact that attackers could twice get so close to the heavily guarded leader increased speculation that somebody close to Musharraf might have been in on the planning.
The attacks also raised questions about the murky issue of succession in this nuclear-armed nation.
A pro-American four-star general, Mohammed Yousaf Khan, is next in line to take command of the army. Musharraf’s ally, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, is prime minister but with little power.
Musharraf still enjoys popular support after ousting the ineffective government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless 1999 coup.
In April last year a bomb aimed at his motorcade in the southern city of Karachi failed to detonate. Three Islamic militants were sentenced to 10 years in prison.
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