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The Massacre at Karsaz Bridge: Analysis of the Bhutto Blast (Part 1)

  • Karachi Police and Interior Ministry: Single attacker threw grenade and then blew himself up
  • Alleged Suicide Bomber Found: Severed head retrieved; DNA tests being conducted
  • Asif Zardari, Bhutto’s Husband: Intelligence bureau responsible
  • The Toll: 138 dead; 550 injured–including senior politicians
  • The Location: Potential significance
  • Bhutto to Name Names: Intelligence Bureau?

The night was over — or so we had thought. Benazir Bhutto’s caravan was moving at a snail’s pace through Karachi on Shahra-e Faisal (Faisal Road) from Jinnah International Airport to Mazar-e Quaid (Jinnah’s Mausoleum). The former prime minister’s first day back in Pakistan had met its end without incident, suggesting that Pakistan’s ongoing political transition would accede somewhat to the norms that those in other countries take for granted. Only a few minutes later, shortly after midnight, we would realize that those hopes were illusory.

FIRST EXPLOSION: CAR BOMB OR GRENADE ATTACK?
After spending almost ten hours on the open platform above the truck, Bhutto made her way downstairs to the secure, armor plated zone. Approximately 10 minutes later, at 12:09 AM Pakistan Standard Time (PST), a relatively minor bomb blast occurred, catching the attention of the throngs of People’s Party supporters following the Bhutto procession. In the gleeful atmosphere, many of them assumed the cause of the noise was fairly innocuous — a flat tire.

There are conflicting reports as to what caused the first explosion. According to Pakistan analyst, Bhutto friend, and eyewitness Victoria Schofield, the first explosion came from a parked car that aroused the suspicion of the police and that a bomb inside went off as the police began to search the vehicle. If accurate, this suggests two possibilities: one, the bomb exploded as a result of police unknowingly activating a trigger; or two, that a culprit was on the scene watching both the police presence and the Bhutto procession and manually activated a trigger in response. However, a trigger-based bomb is being ruled out by Karachi Police and Pakistan’s Interior Ministry for a number of reasons, including, as Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao confirms, that the jamming devices installed in Bhutto’s tour truck and/or surrounding security vehicles would have prevented a trigger-based bomb from going off.

In fact, Karachi Police Chief Azhar Farooqi tells the AP that the first blast was from a grenade.

SECOND EXPLOSION: SUICIDE BOMBING; ONE OR TWO?
Both Karachi Police and the Interior Ministry report that there was a single bomber and that he used a grenade (first blast) to distract the crowd (also perhaps to put Bhutto’s vehicle to a complete stop, clear a path to her truck, and potentially force her evacuation and exposure) and then, approximately two minutes later, detonated the second, larger bomb strapped to himself. This second blast apparently occurred very close to Bhutto’s convoy and caused two police vehicles escorting her truck to go on fire. Bhutto was immediately evacuated from the vehicle and escorted in a protective jeep waiting nearby.

Aftab Sherpao confirms that a suicide jacket was found. He tells AAJ News that the scene of blast being combed with the explosive device and components yet to be fuly examined. Manzoor Mughal tells Reuters that the head of the alleged bomber has been found and DNA tests are being conducted. He adds that 15-20 kg of explosives were used in the attack.

Raja Umer, also with the Karachi Police, states that his organization is looking into whether there were two suicide bombers. This, however, has not been repeated by any other official, and there is no video imagery nor eyewitness accounts to suggest there were two bombers.

THE TOLL
So far the blasts have taken the lives of 138 individuals and injured 550. The primary victims have been People’s Party (PPP) workers, policemen, and security officials within the immediate vicinity of Bhutto’s truck. PPP figures injured include: Amin Fahim (released), Abida Hussain, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Jehangir Badar, Raja Pervez Ashraf, and Murad Ali Shah (in serious condition).

KARSAZ BRIDGE: THE LOCATION OF THE BLAST
The blast occurred half way in between the origin and destination of Bhutto’s procession, specifically near the intersection of Karachi’s busiest road, Shahra-e Faisal and Karsaz Road, which is beneath the newly-built Karsaz Roundabout/Overpass/Bridge (whatever you want to call it!). This location is in close proximity to the National Stadium and more importantly a Pakistan State Oil gas station.

Karachi’s mayor has been furiously building over and underpasses in the city–some of which have been quite shoddy. In fact, an overpass in Karachi collapsed in September and underpasses flooded while under construction due to the monsoon rains. The gas station and overpass proximity lend us to think that there was a significance to the location. In fact, it raises the following question: Did the attacker(s) seek damage on a far larger scale by inducing the collapse of the bridge and/or causing the gas station to explode? Bhutto’s truck, according to some reports, was and remains directly under the bridge.

It seems clear that the attackers would value location over time. Bhutto’s procession had already taken 10 hours to travel around 10 miles. The remaining dozen or so miles would presumably have taken a similar amount of time. And yet, none of this was scheduled. Bhutto supporters had congregated around her planned final destination hours before the blast and television commentators stated a few hours into her parade that her arrival there would be fairly imminent. If time was an issue, it could be in the sense that the bomber just got sleepy. Imagine having to wait that long just to kill yourself. Location-wise, as he map below demonstrates (coming later day), Bhutto’s caravan should have gone further straight on Shahra-e Faisal and would have taken a right turn much later on.

QUESTIONS:

1) Who was the young man at Dubai International Airport who tried to gain entrance into the VIP lounge claiming to be Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s nephew? Does he have any relation to the blast?

2) What was the role of the vehicle without a license plate?

3) Did Benazir Bhutto’s security detail receive the jammers they requested? Aftab Sherpao states that they did.

4) Why were the street lights along Shahra-e Faisal turned off? Who was responsible for that?

5) How will the attacks impact Bhutto’s public presence? Will she travel into Punjab?

6) Why is Bhutto refusing to release the names of the three officials she has implicated in the assassination attempts of her?

———

Note: Benazir Bhutto will be giving a press conference at Bilawal House today at 4PM PST ( 7AM EST – 11AM GMT). She will reportedly name names, i.e. the individuals she listed as threats to her safety in a recent letter to Musharraf. Will Ejaz Shah, head of the Intelligence Bureau, be among them?

———

UPDATE: 6:55 AM - BBC reports that Bhutto told Paris-Match magazine shortly after the attacks, “I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General Zia who are today behind the extremism and fanaticism.”

UPDATE: 4:04 PM - I’ve moved the real-time press conference coverage to a separate post.

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Category: Al Qaeda, Baitullah Mehsud, Benazir Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto Assassination Attempt, Benazir Bhutto's Return, Ejaz Shah, Intelligence Bureau, Pervez Musharraf

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  1. [...] the footer of the previous post, “The Massacre at Karsaz Bridge: Analysis of the Bhutto Blast,” I posted real-time updates of Benazir Bhutto’s press conference at Bilawal House [...]

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Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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