New Death Threat Reported Against Bhutto
By SALMAN MASOOD | October 24, 2007
KARACHI, Pakistan, Oct. 23 — The Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto received a death threat today, her lawyer said, just days after she narrowly escaped explosions detonated close to her fortified truck as she returned home after eight years of self-imposed exile.
The lawyer, Farooq Naik, said he had received a two-page handwritten letter through the mail this morning, written in Urdu and saying that no woman could become prime minister. The letter said that an assault would be made against Ms. Bhutto using a knife and would be carried out by a female “commando,” Mr. Naik said.
The explosions aimed at Ms. Bhutto, last Thursday night resembled attacks by Al Qaeda and their allied Pakistani militants and were the work of two suicide bombers, the provincial governor said in an interview on Monday.
Ishrat ul Ebad Khan, the governor of Sindh Province, said investigators had found the heads of two men that were not claimed by relatives and almost certainly belong to the bombers.
The explosions, detonated close to Ms. Bhutto’s truck as supporters flocked to welcome her home, were the deadliest of more than 50 suicide attacks in Pakistan in recent years.
The governor said the death toll had risen to 140, and included a couple with their 1-year-old child who had come to see Ms. Bhutto’s procession through town. More than 500 people were wounded, he said.
The Pakistani police have said that a grenade caused the first, smaller explosion, and that a lone suicide bomber caused the second, larger blast.
But Mr. Ebad said the police had found no traces of a grenade and had now pieced together the head of a second man.
“Certainly these are extremists,” he said. “They are the people who want to sabotage the political process. In their perspective, it would be a lethal combination for all moderate democratic forces to come together so they wanted to sabotage, disrupt and derail this process.”
Ms. Bhutto has also said militants were set on preventing a return to democracy. But an argument is brewing over how her arrival and procession through the city were handled.
Ms. Bhutto has blamed the government for turning off the streetlights, making it difficult for security guards to spot potential attackers, and has suggested that officials in the government did not act on information she had passed on of planned attacks.
Mr. Ebad said that despite being aware of serious threats, Ms. Bhutto had not taken necessary precautions. The governments of Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates had warned her that suicide bombers were intending to attack her cavalcade.
Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, had asked her to delay her return until investigators could find those planning the attacks, but she had refused, Mr. Ebad said.
Security officials meanwhile had tried to persuade her to take the standard precautions that they employ for all official and political visits — such as not revealing the route of her procession, the vehicle she was traveling in or the time of her arrival, and moving as fast as possible from one place to another — but Mr. Ebad said she had not accepted their suggestions.
“They wanted a rally, they wanted to announce the time and the vehicle for political reasons,” he said. “They had decided to take 18 hours to travel to the mausoleum. The Home Department constantly asked they reduce the time, but they did not accept this.”
He also denied that the street lights were turned off at the time of the blasts, saying that video showed they were on.
Mr. Ebad, who has overseen investigations into seven suicide bombings in Karachi during his five years as governor, said Ms. Bhutto had made well-publicized statements before her return to Pakistan that would have caused extremists to make her a target.
In particular she had hailed the government’s military action against militants in the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July, and she had said she would allow American forces to conduct operations in Pakistan. “It was quite serious if you look at the forces of the extremists and terrorists,” the governor said. “It was quite threatening to them.”
The carnage of her return procession has already significantly curtailed Ms. Bhutto’s plans for rallying supporters. Since the attacks she has only ventured outside her home in Karachi twice, on brief trips to visit the wounded in a hospital and to offer prayers. Neither visit was publicized and each was conducted rapidly with heavy security.
The government meanwhile has moved to curb political rallies and processions before the two-month parliamentary election campaign that will begin Nov. 15.
The interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, said the government had prepared a code of conduct, which it wanted political parties to adopt. The code would prohibit rallies and processions but would allow gatherings at specific places, he said.
“Elections are just two months away and we would want peaceful and conducive elections,” Mr. Sherpao told reporters in Islamabad. “We do not want to postpone elections but we have made a draft of code of conduct.”
The Pakistan Peoples Party led by Ms. Bhutto has already objected to the restrictions because staging huge rallies has always been the traditional way of campaigning for elections in Pakistan, especially among the illiterate and rural communities.
The bombers have not been identified, but an investigator who was briefing the governor on Monday evening said the men were “100 percent” Pakistani. The investigator asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment.
The attack was similar in style to previous suicide bombings in Karachi and elsewhere, he said. The bombers used C4 plastic explosive, the same type used in the bombing of a United States consulate vehicle in Karachi in March 2006, he said.
The police estimated that the first bomber was carrying 17 to 22 pounds of explosives and the second 33 pounds, the investigator said.
Salman Masood contributed reporting.