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Bhutto says she was warned before return to Pakistan that suicide squads would try to kill her
PAKISTAN BHUTTO AXD 5655111
Benazir Bhutto wipes her face whilst speaking to the media at her residence in Karachi on Friday Oct. 19, 2007. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, her return from exile shattered by a suicide attack that killed up to 136 people, blamed militants Friday for trying to kill her and said she would not "surrender our great nation" to them. - photo by Associated Press
    KARACHI, Pakistan — Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, her return from exile shattered by a suicide attack that killed up to 136 people, blamed militants Friday for trying to kill her and said she would not ‘‘surrender our great nation’’ to them.
    She said she had prior warning that Taliban and al-Qaida suicide squads would try to kill her upon her return, and that she alerted President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in an Oct. 16 letter. She said there were two attackers in the deadly bombing; her security guards, she said, found a third man armed with a pistol and another with a suicide vest.
    ‘‘There was one suicide squad from the Taliban elements, one suicide squad from al-Qaida, one suicide squad from Pakistani Taliban and a fourth group, I believe, from Karachi,’’ she in a news conference.
    Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader on the unstable Afghan border, threatened this month to meet Bhutto’s return to Pakistan with suicide attacks, according to local media reports. An associate of Mehsud, however, denied Taliban involvement.
    Bhutto said her guards prevented more carnage.
    ‘‘They stood their ground, and they stood all around the truck, and they refused to let the suicide bomber — the second suicide bomber — get near the truck,’’ she said.
    Bhutto blamed militants for the attack, which drew international condemnation.
    ‘‘We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover,’’ she told a news conference. ‘‘We are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberty, but we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants.’’
    She did not blame the government, but said it was suspicious that streetlights failed after sunset Thursday when her convoy was inching its way through the streets of Karachi. She said the phones were down, making it difficult to have the lights restored.
    ‘‘I’m not accusing the government but certain individuals who abuse their positions and powers,’’ she said. ‘‘We were scanning the crowd with the floodlights, but it was difficult to scan the crowds because there was so much darkness.’’
    In a separate interview with Paris Match, Bhutto blamed ‘‘dignitaries’’ linked to Gen. Zia-ul Haq, the Pakistani leader who jailed her several times before his death in a mysterious plane crash in 1988.
    ‘‘We must purge these elements that are still present in our secret services. A good number of them retired and then were rehired. They have a lot of power today. For them, I represent a danger: if I return democracy to the country, they will lose their influence,’’ she said in the interview.
    Bhutto claimed the next attack against her would target her homes in Karachi and her hometown of Larkana, using attackers posing as supporters of a rival political faction.
    She said she was confident the government would take measures to prevent it.
    Bhutto said militants had ‘‘gained strength’’ but the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan should not delay elections slated for January.
    ‘‘We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover,’’ Bhutto said.
    Pakistan’s Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said parliamentary elections would go ahead as planned, despite the attack on Bhutto.
    ‘‘We reiterate our confidence that, God willing, the political process in the country will continue,’’ Durrani told reporters. ‘‘Elections will be held on time.’’
    Bhutto’s procession was creeping toward the center of Karachi for 10 hours, as supporters thronged her truck, when a small explosion erupted near the front of the vehicle. That was quickly followed by a larger blast, destroying two escorting police vans.
    The attacker’s head was found nearby and taken to a forensic lab to try to identify him, Manzur Mughal, the Karachi police officer in charge of the investigation, told The Associated Press.
    In the aftermath, bodies lay motionless in the street among pools of blood, broken glass, tossed motorcycles and bits of clothing. Some of the injured were rushed on stretchers into a hospital, and others were carried by rescuers in their arms.
    The attack was one of the deadliest in Pakistan’s history.
    Police collected forensic evidence — picking up pieces of flesh and discarded shoes. Bhutto’s truck was hoisted away using a crane. One side of the truck was splattered with blood and pocked with shrapnel holes.
    Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem, the top security official in Sindh province where Karachi is located, suggested that Bhutto’s camp had gotten carried away celebrating her return after eight years in exile, and had not taken the need for security seriously.
    Musharraf phoned Bhutto on Friday to express his shock and grief, and prayed for the former premier’s safety and security, his spokesman said.
    ‘‘The president and Ms. Bhutto both expressed their unflinching resolve to fight this scourge of extremism and terrorism. They also agreed that there was a need for the entire nation to unite in order to rid the country of this menace of suicide bombings, terrorism and extremism,’’ said the spokesman, Rashid Qureshi.
    There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which shed new uncertainty over negotiations between Bhutto and Musharraf and possible plans for a moderate, pro-U.S. alliance.
    Mohtarem said it was the nuts and bolts and steel balls packed around the explosives that had made the bombing so deadly. He said it was impossible to prevent more such attacks.
    Officials at six hospitals in Karachi reported 136 dead and around 250 wounded.
    Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi said that 113 people died, including 20 policemen, and that 300 people were wounded. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the differing death tolls.
    On the eve of Bhutto’s arrival, a provincial government official had cited intelligence reports that three suicide bombers linked to Mehsud were in Karachi. The local government had also warned Bhutto could be targeted by Taliban or al-Qaida.
    The United States has offered to help Pakistan in any way it can, the White House said.
    The attack ‘‘tells you a lot about the kinds of people we are battling against every day, that any flicker of democracy they want to find a way to beat it down and stamp it out,’’ White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said Friday.
    Asked who was responsible, Fratto said, ‘‘I think you could say, broadly, Islamic extremists is probably accurate, but I’d refer you to Pakistani authorities to give better details on that.’’
    Karachi, which lies in the far south of Pakistan and has been buffeted by militant attacks, was quiet Friday. Schools were closed and traffic was thin, with city residents wary of venturing out.
    Unrest broke in two districts but did not appear serious. Hundreds of Bhutto supporters hurled stones at vehicles and shops during a funeral procession for two victims, forcing police to cordon off the area. Elsewhere, Bhutto supporters ordered shops to close and burned tires in the road.
    Bhutto flew home Thursday to lead her Pakistan People’s Party in January parliamentary elections, drawing cheers from crowds that police put at 150,000. She has ambitions to win a third term as prime minister.
    The throngs reflected Bhutto’s enduring political clout, but she has made enemies of Islamic militants by taking a pro-U.S. line and negotiating a possible alliance with Musharraf.
    It remained unclear whether the attack could stiffen the rivals’ resolve to fight militancy together or strain already bad relations between Bhutto and the ruling party supporting Musharraf.
    Musharraf won re-election to the presidency in a vote this month by lawmakers that is being challenged in the Supreme Court. If he is confirmed for a new five-year presidential term, Musharraf has promised to quit the military and restore civilian rule.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington and Paisley Dodds in Karachi, Sadaqat Jan and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.

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