Friday, October 19, 2007

Tallying Butcher's Bill After Bhutto Convoy Attacked

A day after Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after a self imposed exile and her convoy was attacked while driving through Karachi in a devastating car bombing that killed more than 130 people, one of the prime suspects says that it wasn't him.

Baitullah Mehsud says that he wasn't involved despite his prior statements calling for Bhutto's death.
"I had nothing to do with it," Baitullah Mehsud told Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location about the attack on Bhutto's motorcade as it edged through hundreds of thousands of supporters gathered to welcome her from years of exile.

Mehsud, who operates in Waziristan, a tribal region on the border with Afghanistan that has become a centre of al Qaeda and Taliban activity, had been widely reported as issuing threats against Bhutto after she announced plans to return to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile.

His fighters are currently holding more than 200 Pakistani soldiers hostage, having captured them in late August.

Another Waziristan Taliban commander named Haji Omar also spoke this week of the Taliban's intention to kill both Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf because of their support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism and deployment of American troops in Afghanistan.
Bhutto has plenty of enemies, including Taliban and Islamists throughout the country, who also see Musharraf as an enemy.

Throw in the ISI, which has its own interests in mind and has not only supported the Islamists in the past but has been infiltrated by Islamists, and you've got a very volatile mix.

The WaPo blog suggests that the Pakistani government claims that Taliban/Al Qaeda were involved in the attacks should be discounted because there are so many different terrorist groups that could have carried out the attacks.

This is quite true - there are a whole boatload of Islamic terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, and Musharraf and the Pakistani government have alternated between a hands-off/appeasement policy and active intervention against those groups. It is this waffling that has enabled the Taliban and al Qaeda to regroup along the NWFP and Warizistan, which borders Afghanistan. Appeasement is a very dangerous policy when dealing with terrorists, who see it as nothing more than a sign of weakness to be attacked. They use the time and space to regroup and rearm, and the more brazen groups take to attacking Pakistani forces, as seen by Baitullah Mehsud's forces capturing hundreds of Pakistani soldiers.

Bill Roggio notes that this wasn't some amateur terrorist attack, but one conducted with sophistication and precision.
The target of the attacks was the large truck carrying Bhutto and her senior advisors. Bhutto's convoy was surrounded by a massive cordon of police and party volunteers. The security arrangement had two rings: an outer cordon of 20,000 police and inner cordon of 5,000 volunteer's from Bhutto's political party as well as police.

At least one suicide bomber penetrated the outer cordon and hit the inner ring of security. The suicide bomb came close to hitting Bhutto's truck. “The blasts hit two police vehicles which were escorting the truck carrying Ms Bhutto. The target was the truck,” senior Karachi police official Azhar Farooqui told Reuters. Witnesses said two dozen police vehicles "were completely shattered." About 15 to 20 kilograms of explosives were used in the attack.

"There were two blasts, one on the left side and one on the right side of the procession,” Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said. “It appears these were suicide attacks, but it is not confirmed." Police later confirmed recovering the severed head, hands and feet of one suicide bomber, along with the torso.

Conflicting reports on the origin of the second blast exist, but there is a strong possibility that all of the modes of attack occurred, based on the sheer scale of the devastation. Karachi's chief of police said a grenade was hurled at the truck. "First a grenade was thrown at the crowd and then the suicide bomber blew himself up," he said. Other witnesses said "the second blast originated from a golden-coloured Pajero parked on the road."
Apparently, there was also sniper fire involved and the chaos that ensued following the initial attacks enabled the attackers to increase the carnage.

Such an attack has the hallmarks of an al Qaeda/Taliban attack.

That said, there is some conflict among versions about the number of attackers. Pakistani officials say that there was a single suicide bomber, while Bhutto believes that there was as many as four groups of attackers.
Accounts of the attack differed somewhat: local security officials blamed a lone suicide bomber, but Ms. Bhutto was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that there were several attackers.

At a news conference in Karachi today, the home secretary of Sindh Province, Ghulam Mohatarem, said a single suicide bomber first threw a grenade to disrupt the security cordon around Ms. Bhutto’s procession before lunging at the truck and detonating the explosives he was wearing.

But Ms. Bhutto said at a later news conference that there had been two attackers, and that her security guards had also found a third man armed with a pistol and a fourth with an undetonated suicide vest, according to The A.P.

She said her guards had prevented more deaths. “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, The A.P. reported.
Meanwhile, Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, continues to blame elements in the ISI for the attack because they felt threatened by Bhutto's return.

This report certainly lends credence to the possibility that officials in charge of Bhutto's security may have been compromised.

It appears that Bhutto had received warnings that suicide squads were out to get her, and that before the bombers struck, there were power and phone outages in the vicinity of the attack. That only lends more credence to the sophistication of the attackers. Bhutto is not out of the woods either:
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."

She said she had prior warning that suicide squads would try to kill her upon returning home. She said telephone numbers of suicide squads had been given to her by a "brotherly" country and she alerted President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a letter dated Oct. 16.

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.
Her enemies are a very determined bunch, and given enough time, they may succeed.

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