Reuters : Suicide bomber kills 13 at rally for Pakistan judge

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Suicide bomber kills 13 at rally for Pakistan judge

By Zeeshan Haider | July 17, 2007

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed 13 people on Tuesday outside a court in the Pakistani capital Islamabad where the country's suspended chief justice was due to speak, police and officials said.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has become a symbol of resistance to President Pervez Musharraf's 8-year rule, had not arrived to speak to lawyers at the time of the blast.

"Definitely it was a suicide attack. Had it been an ordinary bomb blast there would have been a crater but there was no crater," said the city's top administrator, Khalid Pervez.

There has been a wave of suicide attacks this month in northwest Pakistan following an army operation to besiege and destroy an Islamist militant stronghold at an Islamabad mosque.

But the attack at a gathering of support for Chaudhry spawned more conspiracy theories with elections due by the end of the year.

Chaudhry's suspension on March 9 sparked protests by lawyers defending the independence of the judiciary and has snowballed into the most serious challenge to Musharraf's rule since he seized power in a 1999 coup.

Tuesday's blast went off about 30 meters (yards) from a stage, set up in a car park in a market area outside the court, and close to a stall put up by the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, witnesses said.

The city's police chief Iftikhar Ahmed said 13 people were killed. About 40 were wounded, including several police.

Geo TV cited other witnesses as saying the suicide bomber pulled up on a motorcycle and blew himself up.

"I saw body parts and limbs scattered all over the place," said lawyer Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed.

Violence surged in Pakistan after the army laid siege to Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad on July 3, to stamp out a Taliban-style militant movement. More than 100 people were killed in the siege and final commando assault on July 10.

But since the Lal Masjid operation began, a further 100, most of them police and soldiers, have been killed in blasts and shootings in parts of North West Frontier Province where support for the Taliban is strong.


One lawyer with the chief justice said he believed Tuesday's attack in Islamabad was part of the backlash against the Lal Masjid assault, and was aimed at the PPP because Bhutto had voiced support for the military action against the militants.

Another lawyer close to Chaudhry said he believed the chief justice had been targeted by state intelligence agencies.

"It was a direct attack on the chief justice by the agencies. They wanted to get rid of him," Munir A. Malik, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a member of Chaudhry's legal team, told reporters.

Bhutto was certain her party workers had been targeted, and said she believed some "hidden hands" were seeking to create a pretext for Musharraf to impose emergency rule.

"Our point of view is that imposition of emergency will further alienate moderate forces," Bhutto told Geo TV, though there has been speculation that she is in talks with Musharraf to form some kind of post-election power-sharing arrangement.

Islamabad police chief Ahmed told reporters police had information militant suicide bombers had entered the capital, and he doubted Chaudhry was targeted as he had yet to arrive.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a ruling on the merits of the government case against Chaudhry in coming days.

Many analysts say Musharraf's main motive for seeking to dismiss Chaudhry was that he doubted the judge would be supportive in the event of constitutional challenges to the president's election plans.

Musharraf wants to be re-elected by sitting national and provincial assemblies before they are dissolved for a general election. He also wants to be re-elected while army chief, but is supposed to become a civilian president by the end of the year.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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