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Assassination attempt on Musharraf fails
( 2003-12-15 09:55) (Agencies)

A bomb exploded moments after Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's motorcade passed a bridge near the capital Sunday, at least the second attempt on his life since he enraged hard-liners in 2001 by backing the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan. No one was hurt.

Military trucks and armed soldiers immediately cordoned off the area around a bridge in Rawalpindi as bomb experts and other investigators sifted through rubble, witnesses said. The private GEO TV network reported that the blast was caused by a remote-controlled bomb, but officials could not immediately confirm that.

Army officer stands alert on the bridge where bomb exploded in Rawalpindi, Pakiastan on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003. Pakistan's president escaped an assassination attempt Sunday when a bomb exploded minutes after his motorcade passed a road near the capital, officials said. No one was hurt.  [AP]
"There was an explosion just half a minute or one minute after we crossed," Musharraf told the state PTV network. "I felt the explosion in my car. That's all I know except of course it was a terrorist act and it certainly was me who was targeted."

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press that the president was returning to his home at Army House in Rawalpindi from the city's airport after a visit to the southern city of Karachi.

A witness told GEO TV that he heard the explosion and saw smoke billowing out of the bridge after Musharraf's motorcade passed by.

"My car was parked in the front row when the president's car was passing. As the president's car passed it appeared that somebody tried to blow up the bridge," Irfan Mirza told the network. "After that there were clouds of black smoke there."

Musharraf, the army chief, came to power in 1999 in a bloodless coup, toppling an elected government.

He drew the wrath of hardline Islamic groups after he abandoned the Taliban regime of neighboring Afghanistan and backed the U.S.-led war against Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al-Qaida network following the Sept. 11 attacks.

There has been at least one previous attempt on his life.

Three Islamic militants were sentenced to 10 years for planting a bomb in car along a route Musharraf passed on a congested road in Karachi on April 26, 2002. The remote-controlled device failed to detonate.

In July last year, five people carrying assault rifles were arrested in Karachi for allegedly planning an attack on Musharraf as he visited a road construction project. A court later ordered them released, citing lack of evidence.

"Let me say with confidence I'm used to such incidents, it's happened before," Musharraf told PTV at a wedding reception he attended at an Islambad hotel after Sunday's bombing.

"I have been saying that the greatest danger to our nation is not external, it is internal and comes from religious and sectarian extremists, and this is a typical example of that."

Talat Masood, a former senior defense official, said it was too early to say who was behind Sunday's attack, but the mostly likely suspects were hard-liners opposed to Musharraf's policy on Afghanistan, and his efforts to reform Islamic schools that have become hotbeds of radicalism.

"I think these are the forces who want to eliminate him," Masood said.

Last month Musharraf also banned six militant Islamic groups accused of promoting violence and sectarianism in Pakistan and fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is partly controlled by Pakistan.

The three men convicted in the April 2002 attack were allegedly members of Harakat-ul Mujahedeen al-Almi, an offshoot of a group fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Sunday's blast happened hours after Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri arrived in Pakistan on an official visit. She is due to meet with Musharraf on Monday. Pakistan and Indonesia are the world's two largest Muslim nations.

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