Bhutto says she warned that attacks were likely
By Carlotta Gall and Salman Masood | New York Times | October 20, 2007
KARACHI, Pakistan - The day after she survived a bomb attack, looking pale and shaken, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said Friday that she had warned the government that bomb squads were going to target her on her return to Pakistan and that it had failed to act on the information.
Bhutto did not blame President Pervez Musharraf directly for the bomb blasts and said extremist Islamic groups who wanted to take over the country were behind the attacks, which killed 134 people.
But she pointed the finger at officials in the government who she said were sympathetic to the militants and were abusing their powers to advance their cause. She did not name them Friday, but said she had in a letter to the government on Oct. 16.
"I am not accusing the government but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers," she said at a news conference of hundreds of journalists in the garden of her home in Clifton, an upscale neighborhood of this southern port city.
While it was not possible to assess the veracity of Bhutto's charges, she has long accused parts of the government, namely in Pakistan's premier military intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence, or ISI, of working against her and her party because they oppose her liberal, secular agenda.
Bhutto, however, seemed careful Friday not to accuse Musharraf, taking pains for the time being to preserve the power-sharing arrangement that allowed her to return to Pakistan in the first place, and which may yet make her prime minister for a third time after parliamentary elections in January.
Musharraf has replaced many of the senior members of the ISI with men loyal to him. But he has said that ISI officials may be still pursuing their own agenda.
The ISI has for decades backed militant Islamic groups in the disputed territory of Kashmir and in Afghanistan in pursuit of a military strategy first established by the former military dictator, Gen. Zia ul Haq, in the 1970s.
"I know exactly who wants to kill me," Bhutto said. "It is dignitaries of the former regime of Gen. Zia who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism."
Before her return, she said a "brotherly country," which she did not name, had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her - one from a Pakistani Taliban group, one from Al-Qaida and one from Karachi.
That friendly government, she said, had also supplied Pakistan's government with telephone numbers the plotters were using.
"I would hope with so much information in their hands the government would have been able to apprehend them," she said, "but I can understand the difficulties."
Aware of the risks she faced, she said she had sent Musharraf the letter two days before her return naming "three individuals and more" who should be investigated for their sympathies with the militants in case she was assassinated.
Lights turned off
Bhutto said the street lamps had been turned off Thursday night as her cavalcade inched its way through Karachi, amid perhaps as many as 200,000 supporters and party workers who had turned out to celebrate her return after eight years of self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges.
The darkness made it difficult, she said, for her security officials to scan the vast crowd for potential bombers. She did not accuse the government of turning off the lights, but demanded an investigation.
A security official said the government was investigating which group was behind the blasts, and said that five groups of militants from Pakistan's tribal areas, on the Afghan border, had trained and dispatched suicide bombers for her arrival.
Government officials, who updated the toll to 134 killed and 450 wounded, said the explosions were caused by a lone suicide bomber, on foot, who first detonated a grenade and then blew himself up, scattering a lethal load of screws, pellets and shrapnel into the dense crowd massed around Bhutto's armored truck.