The Age : Al-Qaeda behind Pakistan bombing: Downer

Friday, October 19, 2007

Al-Qaeda behind Pakistan bombing: Downer

October 19, 2007

Al-Qaeda is probably behind a bomb attack on a procession in Karachi for former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says.

Ms Bhutto was returning home to Karachi overnight after eight years in exile when a bomb, believed to be carried by a suicide attacker, exploded within a large crowd that had gathered to welcome her.

At least 125 people were killed in the blast, though Ms Bhutto was uninjured.

Mr Downer said the Australian government was "horrified" at the number of casualties from the bombing.

"There are a number of different militant groups in Pakistan which have links to al-Qaeda," he told ABC Radio.

"This has all the hallmarks of being an attack from one of those groups, if it's not al-Qaeda directly."

Mr Downer said Ms Bhutto's return to Pakistan augured well for the evolution of democracy in the country.

Ms Bhutto returned home to lead her Pakistan People's Party in January elections, at which she could form an alliance with President Pervez Musharraf in the hope of uniting against Islamic extremism.

Mr Downer said al-Qaeda would be deeply offended at the possibility of a woman taking a leadership role in politics in Pakistan, a Muslim country.

"(Al-Qaeda) are profoundly anti-woman. They are, of course, profoundly anti-democratic as well, so the idea of a popular woman leading, or partially leading a democratic country would be something that would be deeply offensive to al-Qaeda," he said.

Mr Downer's comments were similar to those by Prime Minister John Howard.

"It's too early to be certain but it looks very much like the work of al-Qaeda," Mr Howard told ABC Radio.

"It does look that way. I can't be certain."

Mr Howard said al-Qaeda was opposed to Pakistan's involvement with the United States in the war on terror, which is supported by both Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf.