NYT : Suicide Bomber Strikes Within a Mile of Musharraf

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Suicide Bomber Strikes Within a Mile of Musharraf

By SALMAN MASOOD and GRAHAM BOWLEY | October 31, 2007

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, Oct. 30 — A young man blew himself up about one mile from the offices of Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in this garrison town near Islamabad, the capital, today, killing seven people including himself and wounding 14 others, according to police officials and the Interior Ministry.

General Musharraf was working in his office in Rawalpindi at the time of the attack, a spokesman for the president said. He often prefers to work out of his military office there, in the tightly guarded city that is home to the headquarters of Pakistan’s military. General Musharraf, an important ally of the United States in its campaign against terrorism, survived two assassination attempts here in 2003.

The president’s spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, denied that the president was a target of the attack and said the bomber was stopped well before he entered the security zone around the military compound.

The suicide bomber, who was estimated to be between 19 and 23 years old, was on foot and tried to force himself past a police checkpoint when he was stopped by two officers, according to a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Javed Iqbal Cheema. At least four policemen were among the dead.

The attack comes at a tense moment in Pakistan politics. On Oct. 18, as Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader, was returning to Pakistan after eight years of self-exile, bomb blasts aimed at her procession through Karachi killed 140 of her supporters.

Since then Ms. Bhutto has raised the temperature of the country’s politics even further. As she seeks to contest parliamentary elections, she has been outspoken in particular against terrorism, and against the religious and jihadi groups rooted in Pakistan.

She has been in power-sharing negotiations with General Musharraf, who early this month was reelected president. However, constitutional challenges to his eligibility for that contest have yet to be decided by the Supreme Court, leaving him with an incomplete victory.

At the same time, General Musharraf’s authority has been challenged by growing unrest in tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan, where there have been a rising number of deadly attacks on military targets by militants sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The violence has also reached into the center of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Last month, powerful coordinated explosions set off by two suicide bombers in the heart of Rawalpindi killed at least 25 people, some from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and wounded at least 68, according to government and military officials.

Earlier this month, four people were killed and five others injured when one of the three helicopters escorting the president on a visit to Kashmir crashed, but military officials ruled out the possibility of an assassination attempt, attributing the crash to a technical problem

In July, unidentified gunmen fired on General Musharraf’s plane as it took off from Rawalpindi as government forces laid siege to a mosque complex in nearby Islamabad, where Islamic militants were holed up. The general escaped unhurt.

Salman Masood reported from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and Graham Bowley from New York.