Forbes : At least 125 dead as bombs target Bhutto's Pakistan parade, nearly 400 hurt

Friday, October 19, 2007

At least 125 dead as bombs target Bhutto's Pakistan parade, nearly 400 hurt

Thomson Financial | October 19, 2007

KARACHI - Twin bombs targeting former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto killed at least 125 people, turning her emotional homecoming parade after eight years in exile into a scene of carnage.

Bhutto was unhurt, narrowly escaping with her life as the blasts ripped through the police escort of the parade in the streets of Karachi, which were thronged with hundreds of thousands of her supporters.

Hospital officials said nearly 400 people were injured in the blasts late Thursday, which involved at least one suicide bomber.

It was the worst suicide attack in Pakistan's history, and cast an immediate shadow over hopes that her return with the approval of military ruler Pervez Musharraf might bring an end to months of political turmoil.

Bhutto had shrugged off warnings that Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants would try to kill her, and the bombings came hours after she arrived on a plane from Dubai, teary-eyed as she touched Pakistani soil for the first time since 1999.

"It was an act of terrorism targeting Benazir Bhutto and aimed at sabotaging the democratic process," Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told Agence France-Presse.

Sherpao did not say who might be responsible, while Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari alleged a Pakistani intelligence agency was behind the attack.

"It is not done by militants, it is done by that intelligence agency," he told Ary One television. A source close to Bhutto said he was not referring to the main Inter-services Intelligence spy agency, which is run by the military.

Bhutto decided to return from self-imposed exile after Musharraf -- who is head of the military as well as president -- dropped corruption charges against her, hoping her popularity could shore up his grip on power.

She flew in from Dubai vowing to lead her party in elections due by January aimed at restoring Pakistan to civilian rule.

She reportedly had worked out a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, but his reelection as president earlier this month is being challenged in the courts.

In a statement, Musharraf appealed for calm and condemned the attack in the "strongest possible terms." He said those responsible would get "exemplary punishment."

Bhutto had been taking part in a triumphant parade through Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. She had spent hours on top of a specially modified lorry, waving to the crowds that turned out to welcome her home.

Bhutto had just climbed down into the interior of the vehicle when the explosions occurred, Karachi policeman Falak Ahmad told AFP.

"The blasts were only around 15 feet (five meters) from her truck. Minutes before, she had gone inside," Ahmad said. "The blast was so powerful that it destroyed three police vehicles escorting Bhutto's truck."

The city's police chief, Azhar Farooqi, said a grenade was thrown into the crowd just before a suicide bomber blew himself up.

"It is a pattern that would suggest the attack was planned meticulously and conducted expertly -- certainly not by a novice," he said.

Blood and body parts were scattered widely across the scene. City hospitals were crowded with the dead and wounded, and doctors were struggling to keep pace with the carnage.

"It was like walking through an abattoir," an AFP photographer following the parade said at the scene. "Some people were lying around intact, others were completely dismembered."

Dazed Bhutto supporters stumbled along the road, searching for relatives or helping bloodied survivors into vans to be rushed to hospital.

Officials at five different hospitals in Karachi said that 125 people were killed and 390 injured.

The unhurt Bhutto was rushed to her family home, her party said. She cancelled plans to address supporters at a rally on Friday.

Bhutto had insisted she was not concerned about any assassination bid in revenge for her vow to crack down on Muslim extremists in the nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people.

The two-time prime minister's brother was shot dead in Karachi in 1996 and her father was hanged in 1979 by military dictator Zia-ul-Haq.

She fled Pakistan in 1999 to avoid corruption charges arising from her two previous terms in power, but they were quashed by Musharraf this month in a gesture of reconciliation.

"We are still fighting a dictatorship," Bhutto, the first woman ever to lead an Islamic nation, said on arrival earlier. "We want to isolate extremists and build a better Pakistan."

The United States, which counts Musharraf as a valuable ally in its "war on terror," denounced the carnage.

"The United States condemns the violent attack in Pakistan and mourns the loss of innocent life there," White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

In a statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he condemned the attack and "trusts that all political forces will act together to strengthen national unity."

Copyright Thomson Financial News Limited 2007. All rights reserved.