Pakistan's president unhurt after attack on motorcade

Large bomb under bridge explodes 30 seconds after his convoy passes

December 15, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf narrowly survived an assassination attempt here last night when a large bomb detonated on a bridge 30 seconds after his motorcade had crossed.

Visibly shaken, Musharraf appeared on state television and described what was by far the most serious attempt on his life since he sided with the United States in the campaign against terrorism in September 2001.

"The bomb exploded half a minute after I crossed," Musharraf said. "I felt the explosion in my car. That is all I know. Certainly it was me who was targeted.

"I am used to such things. They have happened before. God is great. No problem, life continues."

The location of the assassination attempt was unusual: Rawalpindi lies near the nerve center of Pakistan's military establishment. It is considered one of the most secure cities in the country.

The bomb, described by officials as large, exploded 500 yards from the headquarters of the Pakistani Army 11th Corps and only a few miles from the Pakistani army headquarters, where Musharraf lives.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was unusual that someone outside Musharraf's close circle of aides would know the exact timing of his movements.

After the attack, police sealed off the bridge and were deployed to sensitive sites across Islamabad, the country's capital, 20 miles north of here. The extent of damage to the bridge was not known.

The stability of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear weapons, has long been a concern of the United States and the West. Military dictators have ruled Pakistan for most of its modern history. Musharraf, who is president and chief of staff of the armed forces, seized power in 1999 in a coup. Were he to be assassinated or deposed, the line of succession would be unclear.

Various Islamic militant groups have called for Musharraf to be killed since he sided with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time, he reversed Pakistan's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. He has also begun a limited crackdown on militant groups in Pakistan.

Elements of Pakistan's military are also said to oppose his pro-U.S. stance. But Musharraf and senior officials say the army remains firmly under control.

President Bush has called Musharraf one of the United States' closest allies in the campaign against terrorism.

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