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Sources: Banned militant group tried to assassinate Musharraf

The suicide bombers who blew themselves up in a failed attempt on Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's life last week were part of an outlawed group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, intelligence officials said Wednesday.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at a speech on Dec. 25, the day an attempt was made on his life -- the second assassination bid in less than two weeks. Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in a failed assassination attempt on Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf last week were members of an outlawed group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, three intelligence officials said Wednesday.

The bombers were part of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which Musharraf banned in 2002 as part of a drive to purge Pakistan of terrorism, according to the officials, who are all intimately involved in the investigation. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

One of the attackers was from Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region that is divided between Pakistan and India. The identity of the other attacker has not been announced, although Information Minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed has said he was a foreigner.

The interior minister previously said three suicide bombers were involved in the Dec. 25 attack, but officials now believe there were only two.

The attack in Rawalpindi, a bustling city near the capital, Islamabad, killed 16 people and left dozens wounded. Musharraf was unhurt.

“We have confirmed that one suicide bomber was a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed,” one of the intelligence officials said.

The other man appeared to be an Afghan who was also involved in the group, and both men had undergone terrorist training in Afghanistan, he said.

Raid in Rawalkot
Two days after the failed assassination attempt, authorities raided a home in Rawalkot, a district in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir, said Abdul Rauf Chaudhry, an Interior Ministry spokesman. Police arrested three men, all believed to be relatives of one of the bombers.
Chaudhry told AP on Wednesday that authorities have detained dozens of suspects, but he would not comment on whether Jaish-e-Mohammed was involved in the attack.

“At this stage, we cannot say anything about it,” he said.

A spokesman for Jaish-e-Mohammed, Sahrai Baba, denied any involvement Wednesday.

“We do not like Musharraf, but we did not try to kill him,” he said by telephone.

In recent days, Musharraf has said he is ready to discuss all options with India to resolve the issue of Kashmir — a territory over which Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

The stance has been met with anger by Kashmiri militant groups, who see it as a betrayal of their cause.

Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India by a cease-fire line. Jaish-e-Mohammed and nearly a dozen other groups have been fighting in Kashmir for independence or merger with mainly Muslim Pakistan. The insurgency in Kashmir has killed more than 65,000 people since 1989.

Another try on the same road
The Dec. 25 attack came 11 days after a similar, failed attempt to assassinate Musharraf — with a bomb against his convoy on the same road. The attacks raised questions about the Pakistani leader’s safety.

“Definitely, the attackers had obtained information about the president’s movement from somebody responsible for his security,” said another intelligence official, who also confirmed the Jaish-e-Mohammed link.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, will seek a vote of confidence from Parliament on Thursday to remain in power as president for five years. He is expected to win easily.