RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf narrowly survived a second attempt on his life in two weeks on Thursday when suicide car bombers attacked his motorcade, killing themselves and at least 12 others.
Musharraf, who escaped a bombing on December 14 near the site of Thursday’s blast, appeared on television later and accused “terrorists” for the bomb attack.
The president, who appeared well, told state-run Pakistan Television it was still unclear exactly who was responsible but added: “Certainly, they are terrorists, extremists.”
The huge blasts scattered debris and body parts over a wide area. The windshield of Musharraf’s armored Mercedes was damaged and the state flag blown from its wing, officials said.
An aide said Musharraf, who had been heading to his Rawalpindi home, was “in good spirits.”
“It was an assassination attempt,” said Information Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed.
Two cars packed with explosives were driven out of two petrol stations and into the motorcade just 200 meters (yards) from a bridge on a main road in the city of Rawalpindi,
“Two suicide attackers in two cars tried to hit the president’s vehicle. God has saved him,” Ahmed said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Rauf Chaudary said at least 14 people had been killed, including at least two bombers. Officials said at least 46 people were hurt.
A soldier and three policeman died. Some police officers in the motorcade were hurt and a diversionary open-topped Mercedes at the tail end of the motorcade was blown across the road.
Major-General Shaukat Sultan said it was too early to say who might be responsible.
“It could be al Qaeda, it could be an internal factor, or both internal and external,” he said. “We can say something only after investigations are complete.”
The list of Musharraf’s enemies has lengthened since he took a front-line role in the U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Authorities suspect Islamic militants were behind the December 14 attack. Musharraf told Reuters a few days later it could have been the work of al Qaeda and he believed “destiny” had shielded him.
He has angered militants by dropping support for the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, arresting hundreds of members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network and cracking down on domestic groups, while edging toward peace with rival India.
In September, an audio tape purportedly from al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri urged Pakistanis to overthrow Musharraf for supporting the United States.
SUMMIT SEEN AT RISK
The attack was carried out just over a week before a regional summit in Islamabad due to be attended by India’s Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Some analysts questioned whether Vajpayee would want to make the trip given security concerns.
India’s Foreign Ministry condemned a “heinous terrorist attack” on Musharraf, but made no mention of the summit.
Pakistani cabinet ministers went into an emergency meeting with Musharraf at his presidential palace on Thursday night.
The latest bid came a day after Musharraf reached an agreement with hardline Islamic opponents to step down as Chief of Army Staff by the end of 2004 in order to resolve a long-running row that has virtually paralyzed parliament.
Shireen Mazari, head of the state-funded Institute of Strategic Studies, said the attacks could be the work of extremists wanting to derail moves toward peace with India and unhappy with the war on terror.
She said they raised serious questions about Musharraf’s security and much touted intelligence services.
Naseem Zehra, another leading political analyst, said the attacks showed security was inadequate and it was unclear if regional leaders would risk attending the January 4-6 summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.