Friday, October 19, 2007

Karachi Bomb Attack Misses Benazir Bhutto But Kills Scores Of Others

An apparent suicide bombing "ripped through the police escort" of Benazir Bhutto's homecoming parade in Karachi, Pakistan, on Thursday night, killing more than a hundred people and injuring at least four hundred others.

The death toll and the number of reported injuries continue to rise.

Witnesses described two blasts; the first seemed to be a grenade thrown into the crowd.

The second explosion was much larger and devoured a police vehicle immediately in front of the truck in which Bhutto was riding.

The attack is being described as a failed assassination attempt, but it looks like something very different to these cold eyes.

The former Prime Minister had been on top of the truck for hours, ignoring all security precautions and waving to the crowd as the convoy inched along.

But then she went inside the specially armored vehicle, and within a few minutes the bombs went off.

Here's a report from China's Xinhua:

Blasts in Pakistan kill 115
In Pakistan, a suspected suicide bomber has killed 115 people in an attack targeting a vehicle carrying former prime minister Benazir Bhutto through Karachi. Officials say Bhutto was unhurt.

After one of the deadliest blasts in Pakistan's history, Bhutto has left the truck that had been transporting her through Karachi's crowded streets. Militants linked to al-Qaeda are reportedly angered by Bhutto's support for the U.S. war on terrorism. They threatened to assassinate her earlier this week.

Rescuers scrambled to drag bodies from the wreckage as flames lit up the night sky after two explosions in Pakistan's most violent city. A Bhutto aide who was traveling with her says the blasts went off while she was resting inside the truck.

An official says reports suggest at least three jihad groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban are plotting suicide attacks.

Bhutto has returned from eight years of self-imposed exile to lead the Pakistan People's Party into national elections that are meant to return the country to civilian rule.
Hundreds of thousands of people -- some reports said a million or more -- had gathered in Pakistan's largest city to greet Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister returning after eight years in self-imposed exile.

She had fled the country amid corruption charges after President General Pervez Musharraf took power in the bloodless coup of 1999, and her return follows the long negotiation and quick passage of a so-called "reconciliation ordinance".

The Pakistani government had responded to the Taliban threat of suicide bombings by promising the highest level of security and assigning tens of thousands of police -- turning the city into a fortress, according to one account.

But it wasn't enough -- nor could it have been, unless I am reading this way wrong.

The Irish Times reported:

Attack on Bhutto convoy kills 126
A suspected suicide bomber killed at least 126 people in last night's attack on former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto as she was driven through Karachi to greet supporters on her return from eight years in exile.

Mrs Bhutto was unhurt in one of the deadliest attacks in her country's history. She was quickly escorted away from the truck that had been carrying her through streets crowded with hundreds of thousands of well-wishers.

There was no claim of responsibility. Militants linked to al-Qaeda, angered by her support for the US war on terrorism, had this week threatened to assassinate her.

The attack took place shortly after midnight, more than 10 hours after the former prime minister had arrived back in Pakistan from Dubai.

About 20,000 security personnel had been deployed to protect Mrs Bhutto but the provincial governor said in view of the "real threats", authorities had urged her party to wind up the procession faster.

The attack has been widely condemned.
... and in the most cynical terms ...
President Pervez Musharraf, in a statement issued by the state run news agency, said the attack represented "a conspiracy against democracy".
Considering the source, this is almost laughable.

Last month, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's most popular political leader, was arrested and deported when he tried to return from exile and participate in the upcoming elections.

The agreement negotiated between Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto granted her return and presumably a share of power while excluding Nawaz Sharif, and it is most ironically termed a "reconciliation" agreement. The "reconciliation" was quietly supported -- some say "brokered" -- by the United States, which wants to keep Musharraf in power as a so-called ally in the so-called war on so-called terror, in what can only be described as a "conspiracy against democracy" itself.
The United States and other allies condemned the attack.

"There is no political cause that can justify the murder of innocent people," said U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
A White House National Security Council spokesman said: "Extremists will not be allowed to stop Pakistanis from selecting their representatives through an open and democratic process."
Of course not. Only Americans and Pakistani "moderates" are allowed to do that.
The European Union urged authorities to find those responsible. "Such acts greatly endanger the electoral process," it said, referring to general elections due by mid-January.

In Dubai, Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari said: "I blame government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies."
Some might say it's too soon to blame anyone.

But when the city becomes a fortress and the bomber still gets access ...

When the major explosion blast appears to come from in a police vehicle ...
Bhutto, 54, had returned from self-imposed exile to lead her Pakistan People's Party in the general election meant to return the country to civilian rule.
Here the phrase "civilian rule" refers to the fact that the President General has promised to resign his commission as Army Chief of Staff. That's not the only irony.
For years Bhutto had vowed to come back to end military dictatorship, yet she returned as a potential ally for Musharraf, the army chief who took power in a 1999 coup.
And indeed Benazir Bhutto is seen as having "sold out" to Musharraf and the Americans. The "reconciliation" allows her to return and grab a share of power, in return for her party's supporting the General and the foreigners.

Meanwhile, Musharraf's "re-election" of is still undergoing review by Pakistan's Supreme Court; the President General should not have been eligible according to three separate legal provisions, but of course neither the laws nor the lawyers control the police or the army.

On October 6th, General Musharraf was "re-elected" to another term as President by members of Parliament and the provincial assemblies. The vote was almost unanimous because many of those who opposed him resigned in order to strip the election of legitimacy. And the stripping would have been much more effective had the PPP resigned as well. But instead, under the terms of the "reconciliation" agreement, they retained their seats but abstained from voting.

This is "democracy" at work in America's favorite South Asian ally.
The United States has quietly encouraged their alliance to keep nuclear-armed Pakistan pro-Western and committed to fighting al Qaeda and supporting NATO's efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
And the death toll continues to rise.

Agence France Presse (France): At least 130 dead as bombs target Bhutto
A suicide bombing targeting former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto killed at least 130 people, turning her emotional homecoming parade after eight years in exile into a scene of carnage.

Bhutto was unhurt, escaping with her life as the blast ripped through the police escort for the parade in Karachi whose streets had been thronged with hundreds of thousands of her supporters.

It was the worst suicide attack in Pakistan's history, casting 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.

Blood and body parts were scattered widely across the scene and doctors at city hospitals struggled to keep pace after the attack, which happened late on Thursday.

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

Hospital officials said nearly 400 people were injured.

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

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

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.

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

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

"The blasts were only around 15 feet (five metres) 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."

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 130 people were killed and 400 injured.

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

Her husband told Ary One television the bombing "is not done by militants, it is done by that intelligence agency," but a source close to Bhutto said he did not mean the main military-run Inter-services Intelligence agency.
Well, then, which other intelligence agency could he could mean?


AP Photographer B.K. Bangash was an eyewitness. Here's his account, as published in The Guardian:

Bombing Turns Bhutto's Triumph to Horror
The first explosion sounded like a tire had blown out on a bus but as I moved closer to see, another much stronger blast hit - sending dozens of people running as balls of flames, dirt and debris erupted into the night sky.

A police van was in flames, the streets were littered with the bodies of the dead. Arms, legs and other body parts were everywhere. I heard a man calling desperately for his son. He begged me to help, but the child was no where to be found. Later I heard the boy, a 6-year-old, was dead.

He was one of scores of people killed in a suspected suicide attack that struck Bhutto's procession as it made its way for more than 10 hours through the streets of Karachi after she returned from eight years in exile.

Moving at a snail's pace through a crowd of hundreds of dancing and cheering supporters, the truck carrying Bhutto was about 10 miles from the tomb of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, when the first explosion struck shortly before midnight.

I ran toward the truck and was about 20 yards away when the second thunderous blast hit.

Most of the victims were men, many of whom had been driving alongside the procession on motorcyles, though I saw the bodies of at least two children.

Limbless victims cried out to strangers for help in the darkness. Parents frantically searched for missing children as the flames sent waves of heat through the streets, fanning the smell of blood in the air.

About 20 minutes later - it seemed like an eternity - the scream of ambulance sirens pierced the chaos.
Chaos, indeed. What a shame. Regardless of who's being blamed, regardless of who is actually responsible, there are an awful lot of innocent people dead, and injured, and so many innocent families grieving. My sympathies are with them.

I've been collecting other reports on the Bhutto bombing at "my other blog", and I will probably continue to do so. If you think you can stand even more heartbreaking details, click here.