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14 die in suicide attempt on Musharraf

By ANWAR IQBAL, UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf survived a second assassination attempt in less than two weeks Thursday, but 14 people, including two suicide bombers, were killed in the attack.

The latest attempt on Musharraf's life was the second in 11 days and third major attack since April 2002. He also has survived several minor attempts to kill him.

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More than 40 people were injured in Thursday's attacks. The windscreen of Pakistan's military ruler's car was also damaged.

In an interview to the official Pakistan Television, Musharraf described the attack.

"I was returning home after attending a meeting in Islamabad when two suicide bombers attacked our motorcade near the place where the first attempt on my life was made (on Dec. 14)," he said. "First a car, with suicide bombers, rammed into the motorcade and exploded. When moved a little ahead, another car, also with suicide bombers, attacked the motorcade. Both cards exploded on impact.

"A lot of debris fell on us but by the grace of God I am unhurt. I am really sad that 14 innocent lives have been lost and 40 people have been injured. They lost their lives because of me, I was the target, and so our government will look after their families."

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Musharraf refused to speculate who the attackers might have been.

"They were terrorist, extremists and misguided people. I do not want to pinpoint anyone," he said. "I will only say that these are misguided people who are giving a bad name not just to Pakistan but also to our religion Islam and are harming the ummah (the international Muslim community)."

Islamist fundamentalists believed to be linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network have in the past called Musharraf a traitor for siding with the United States in its war on terrorism.

The Pakistani president refused to classify the attack as a lapse in security.

Some people, he said, were calling it "a major security lapse but I do not necessarily agree with them. It is not easy to check suicide attackers. These people are like mobile bombs. They move from place to place.

"I am fully satisfied with my security guards. They are risking their lives to protect me. They are loyal to me. I cannot ever imagine that they would be involved."

Musharraf also had a message for the leaders of seven South Asian nations, including neighbor and rival India, who are scheduled to meet in Islamabad Jan. 4-6.

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"This is not general terrorism or general bombing. It is specific and targeted bombing," he said. "I am the target. I may be at risk and the people traveling with me. There's no risk to our guests."

Musharraf also read out a message to his nation, pledging to carry out the war against terrorism.

"We will press ahead in our war against terrorism," he said. "Such cowardly attacks cannot deter us."

Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who chaired an emergency meeting of the federal Cabinet after the attack, also expressed the resolve to "carry out the fight against terrorism."

"We are solidly behind the president," he said. "We cannot surrender to these terrorists."

Musharraf was returning home to Rawalpindi, a city adjacent to the Pakistani capital Islamabad, when attacked. The previous attempt was also made on this route.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Pakistani military officials said they believed al-Qaida, the group believed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attack in the United States, was behind it.

"The president is fine and attended a dinner he hosted for the delegates of a science conference he held in Islamabad," Information Secretary Anwar Mahmud. "He later also recorded a message for Pakistan Television,"

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Mahmud said the two attackers were killed as they rammed their explosives-packed cars into the presidential motorcade. The other victims were civilians and a policeman, he said.

In a statement read on television, Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed said the attackers were waiting for the presidential motorcade at two gas stations in Rawalpindi.

"As the motorcade reached a gas station in Rawalpindi's Civil Lines area, one car drove straight into it from the front, blowing up on impact," he said. "A little later, as the motorcade sped away from the first gas station, another car drove into it from another nearby gas station, also blowing up on impact."

"Fortunately, nobody in the presidential entourage was hit."

Military officials told journalists in Islamabad they believed al-Qaida was involved because of the method used. He said terrorist groups trained and raised in the Middle East are known for using explosive-filled cars in suicide attempts.

"Pakistani groups have never used such methods," said Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, the chief military spokesman for the Musharraf government.

Military officials reminded journalists that recently al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri had issued two messages in which he named Musharraf "an enemy" and urged his followers to "remove him."

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Thursday's attack came a day after Musharraf's decision to step down as armed forces chief next year. The move could end a bitter row with Islamists and hasten Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth.

Musharraf announced Wednesday he would quit as military chief by December next year and seek a vote of confidence on his presidency, in order to end a bitter constitutional crisis.

Political commentators said Musharraf had many enemies.

"There is a lot of resentment against him," said Rasheed Khalid, who teaches politics at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University. "There are al-Qaida operatives, the Taliban, who say he betrayed them after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States when he joined the U.S.-led war against terror."

Political commentator Nasir Zaidi said Kashmiri militants, fighting for independence from India, also had reasons to target Musharraf.

"They are upset because he banned several Kashmir groups under U.S. pressure and now media reports suggest that Musharraf may try to settled the Kashmir dispute with India during the South Asian summit," Zaidi said.

India Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is also attending the summit and media reports in Pakistan have suggested that Musharraf wants to settle the 56-year old dispute, which has caused thousands of lives, in a possible meeting with Vajpayee.

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Kashmiri militants are particularly upset with an offer Musharraf made to India last week, offering to give up Pakistan's demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir in return for peace.

Musharraf, the army chief who assumed power in an October 1999 coup, declared himself president 21 months later. This week he made an arrangement with opposition Islamic parties that will allow him to rule the country till 2007.

He infuriated Islamic groups by abandoning the Taliban in favor of the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

He not only reversed Islamabad's long support of Afghanistan's then-rulers, he allowed U.S. forces to use Pakistani intelligence, air corridors and air bases for their operation against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Musharraf has compounded the resentment against him by seeking to curb extremism. He has outlawed 13 militant Islamic organizations since August 2001.

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