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The Massacre at Karsaz Bridge: Analysis of the Bhutto Blast (Part 2)

  • Bomber Sketch Released
  • Two Severed Heads Found; Police Still Assert One Bomber
  • Explosives: Russian-Made Grenade and 14 kg RDX suicide belt
  • Multiple Attack Teams?
  • A Nexus Against Bhutto?
  • Political Fallout of the Attacks: Playing Musical Chairs Can Be Dangerous
  • More Questions

PAKISTANI POLICE RELEASES IMAGE OF ALLEGED KARACHI BOMBER
Sindh Police has released a sketch of the severed head of an individual it alleges is the sole suicide bomber in Friday’s Karsaz Bridge attack. Reuters’ Kamran Haider quotes a Pakistani security official as stating, “The age of the suspect is between 20 to 25 and he looks to be a Karachiite.” Based on the image, the individual could be from anywhere in Pakistan’s southern half. Karachi is also a diverse city populated by a plurality of Urdu-speaking migrants from India, as well as Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, Balochis, Memons, Afghani refugees, Bengalis, and even some Africans. However, the choice of a Karachiite makes sense, as the individual would more easily mix into the crowd and know his way around Pakistan’s largest city. The sketch of his reconstructed face as well as fingerprints believed to be from his severed limbs have been sent to the National Registration and Database Authority (NADRA) and it could come back with results on the bomber’s identity as early as Monday. According to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, approximately 53.5 million Pakistanis have computerized National Identity Cards (NIC) with biometrics as of September 2006. NADRA also makes use of face recognition technology. A second severed head was found — which could support the claims of two suicide bombers made by the Bhutto camp — but police believe that he was a victim of the blasts, not a perpetrator.

THE FIRST BLAST
Pakistani security officials have shed light on the weapons used in Friday’s attack, but there are conflicting narratives and many questions remain.

Karachi Police’s lead investigator Manzoor Mughal states that the first blast came from a Russian-made hand grenade of approximately 1kg (2.2 lbs). He matches my initial theory on Friday that the goal of the grenade attack was to cause the crowd to disperse, create a hole in Bhutto’s security cordon, and try to take out the former prime minister.

Still, it remains unclear who threw the grenade. Government officials seem to insist on the role of a single attacker, a theory that makes little sense. It puts too much responsibility in the hands of one individual and maximizes the risk of jeopardizing the whole operation.

Let’s assume the suicide bomber threw the grenade. He would need some distance from the convoy, and the greater the distance from the convoy, the greater the risk that he could be caught on his way to it. Moreover, he would’ve attracted attention to himself by throwing the grenade, which was only a means to a more explosive end.

THE TEAM(S): GUNNERS AND BOMBERS?
Statements by the Bhutto camp further the idea that there was more than one actor involved. It claims there were two suicide bombers at Karsaz, which, as I stated earlier, receives some support by the presence of two severed heads on the scene of the blast. However, there is little other evidence at this point to suggest that there was another suicide bomber involved in the attack at Karsaz. But important details coming from the People’s Party point to a wider conspiracy.

In her Friday press conference, Bhutto stated that her convoy came under gunfire, some of which was aimed at the tires of her vehicle. She is unsure as to whether this occurred before or after the second blast. This suggests the suicide bomber was accompanied by several other accomplices, and there are reports a group of men waiting underneath Karsaz Bridge attracted the suspicions of many before the blast. One report states that they were allegedly wielding sticks (another report says they were also yelling), but makes little sense.

In any event, there is significant reason to believe that the suicide bomber received gun support from several armed men, one of whom potentially threw the grenade. And there is indication that there could have been multiple attack teams, consisting of at least one gunner and one suicide bomber, posted along Bhutto’s 20+ mile parade route.

THE SUICIDE BOMBER THAT GOT NABBED
Bhutto states her security personnel apprehended two men, one with a gun and another with a suicide belt, prior to the blasts. It is unclear when and where the gunner was arrested, but the man with the suicide belt was arrested 13 minutes before the blast in Karachi’s Nursery area—which is further along the parade route, DIRECTLY in between the site of the successful blasts and Bhutto’s intended destination: Mazar-e Quaid.

Were they caught near one another? If so, they could have been part of a team of at least two. Where are they now? Are they being interrogated?

Sindh Home Secretary Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem told Reuters on October 17 of reports that three different groups were planning to attack Bhutto on her return. It appears he was referring to three units sent by Baitullah Mehsud. So was there a third cell? If so, where were they waiting, and where are they now?

THE SECOND BLAST
The second blast, which occurred between 30-60 seconds later, was, according to Karachi Police’s lead investigator, from a suicide belt laden packed with 15-20 kg (33-44 lbs) of RDX explosives and shrapnel, perhaps consisting of “ball-bearings and pellets.” Ghulam Muhammad adds that it also contained nuts and bolts. Clearly the goals were to penetrate the armor of Bhutto’s vehicle and, if unsuccessful, inflict mass damage. The attacker sought to get as close to Bhutto as possible, but apparently only made it to the front-left side, while Bhutto was safely in the back.

THE NETWORK: A MILITARY-CIVILIAN-JIHADI NEXUS?
While the mechanics of the attack are significant, the organizational forces behind it are more important. There is, of course, the theory that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are behind the attacks — independently — without any the support of military, intelligence, or political forces inside Pakistan. However, Baitullah Mehsud has denied involvement in the attacks and neither Osama bin Laden nor Ayman al-Zawahiri have made any statements against Bhutto. They have, however, repeatedly called for the overthrow of Pervez Musharraf. Bhutto has never been on the radar of al-Qaeda Prime, though the same can’t be same for the Taliban.

A more plausible, but still highly-speculative alternative is a loose network of individuals with various, intersecting interests that share one major obstacle: Benazir Bhutto.

Their feud with Bhutto centers on a fight over the control of Punjab and preventing the rolling back of the autonomy of various current and former military-intelligence officials, their fiefdoms, and unconventional wars.

Though Bhutto refused to name the three officials she listed in a letter to Pervez Musharraf prior to her return as direct threats to her life, we’re getting clear indication of who they and their potential associates are.

They include (in order of importance):

  • Ejaz Shah:
  • The Chaudhry Cousins — Pervez Ellahi and Shujaat Hussain:
    • Respectively, chief minister of Punjab and president of Musharraf’s party, the PML-Q;
    • Rise to power allegedly orchestrated by Ejaz Shah;
    • Stand to lose the most from a Bhutto-Musharraf deal — national power + potentially control of Punjab;
    • Exchanged a vigorous war of words with Bhutto prior to her return;
    • Bhutto did not mention their names in her long list of politicians that called on her to support;
    • Fear Bhutto’s potential inroads into Punjab, which would be done by mobilizing masses in rural Punjab;
    • On Saturday, Shujaat called for banning political rallies during election season.
  • Ijaz-ul-Haq:
    • Minister of Religious Affairs in current government;
    • Member of Chaudhries’ PML-Q party;
    • Son of Zia-ul-Haq:
      • Former president and military ruler of Pakistan who overthrew Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had him executed;
      • Later killed in an air crash believed by some to be orchestrated by a terrorist group, al-Zulfikar, run by Benazir’s brother Murtaza.
  • Potential others:
    • Arbab Rahim:
      • Chief Minister of Sindh;
      • Strong likelihood that he and his party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), will lose control of the province in next elections to Benazir’s People’s Party (PPP);
      • MQM militants attacked PPP activists (and militants) in Karachi street violence coinciding with the ill-fated visit of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to city on May 12, 2007;
      • Bhutto, however, has stated that the next potential attack against her would involve framing the MQM as the culprits.
    • Haji Omar [profile]:

Even if any of the government figures above are involved in the attacks on Bhutto, public punitive action against them would be unlikely. Bhutto, by refusing to mention their names directly, perhaps understands this and would accept their removal from the power structure alone.

POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS
Pakistani authorities have detained three men in southern Punjab they believe have links to the blast. This suggests that those who implemented Friday’s terror could include elements of the network oft-described as the “Punjabi Taliban.” Rashid Rauf, alleged to be involved in the summer 2006 al-Qaeda airline plot, was arrested in Bahawalpur, located in southeastern Punjab.

If the attacks were implemented by jihadis hailing from Punjab focused on FATA, Afghanistan, and Kashmir, it remains plausible these individuals were instruments of some of the institutional actors listed above. As a result, they bring several issues to the forefront: governance of Punjab; control of power at the center; and the future of jihad in Kashmir, FATA, and Afghanistan.

Pervez Musharraf is ultimately at the center of all this. The attacks will perhaps force him to make some compelling decisions in the coming weeks and months. Benazir Bhutto clearly understands this, and after the attacks, has been keen to remain on his good side, asserting directly and indirectly her confidence and trust in him.

Will Musharraf take a more assertive stance against the roguish military-intelligence figures near him? Or will he continue to play a precarious balance?

Musharraf might have to make a choice between two camps — the ‘progressives‘ : Tariq Aziz, Ashfaq Kiyani, and Hamid Javed; and the ‘conservatives‘: Ijaz Shah, Shujaat Hussain, and Pervez Ellahi.

The ‘progressives’ favor a deal with Benazir Bhutto and incline less toward support for unconventional warfare within and without Pakistan. The ‘conservatives’ oppose a deal with Bhutto. They’ll definitely lose control of the center and potentially even Punjab, and they (for a variety of reasons) favor Pakistan’s waging of or support for unconventional wars abroad. Musharraf seems to be leaning toward the ‘progressives’, as he’s proposed Tariq Aziz as the caretaker prime minister for the elections and has chosen Ashfaq Kiyani as his succeeding army head.

Ijaz Shah’s posting will expire in February, which can provide a quiet way to say goodbye. The Chaudhries could end up becoming an unbearable burden for Musharraf. But any moves against them will have negative ramifications. It will create a void that can be naturally filled, but mainly by Nawaz Sharif, the elected prime minister Musharraf overthrew in 1999.

NAWAZ SHARIF: HOMEWARD BOUND?
The future of Nawaz Sharif remains murky. Two major questions that need to be considered are: 1) Will Musharraf permit Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan and a meaningful role in the political process? 2) Will Sharif change his tune and start to compromise with Musharraf? If the gap between the two is bridged a bit, then an opening can emerge to part ways with the Chaudhries, and bring in Sharif. But all-too-often, inclination toward compromise in Pakistan is seen as a vulnerability. Any sort of mending of relations between the two will require much time and energy — just look at how protracted the Bhutto-Musharraf talks were. Musharraf can perhaps count on Sharif to counter a rising Benazir, but the latter two could, alternatively, both focus on a vulnerable, uniformless Musharraf without a political base, and send him packing.

Reportedly the Saudis have serious objections to holding on to Nawaz beyond mid-November. Sharif was pressure by both Saad Hariri and Bandar bin Sultan to postpone his Saudi departure to after November 7. He was to leave Saudi for London in mid-October, but conceded to his detainers’ demands and only after reportedly becoming very emotional.

There are indications he is very demoralized. Shortly after the attacks, when speaking to a private Pakistani television station via telephone, his voice weakened as he answered a question about when he would return to the country. He meekly replied, “When the people of Pakistan call for me.” And after five seconds or so of silence, the call ended abruptly. Though Musharraf wants Sharif’s return only after the general elections, he is being forced to accept his earlier return. But it can be a severely injured Nawaz who would be more conciliatory after essentially being held hostage for two months.

QUESTIONS:

  1. Where are the gunman and attempted suicide bomber apprehended by Bhutto’s security people and turned over to Karachi police? Are they being interrogated? Why haven’t they been mentioned in most reports?
  2. To what extent were Musharraf and Bhutto’s camps negligent?
  3. Did the jammers provided by Musharraf’s camp work?
  4. Did Bhutto’s supporters accidentally cause some of them to malfunction?
  5. Did it make sense for Bhutto to have an 18-hr procession, especially after individuals such as Ghulam Muhammad Mohtarem urged her to end her procession before sunset and others offered her a helicopter? Why were Bhutto’s “security guards” young, scrawny volunteers? To what extent were they human shields? Wouldn’t professionals have been better?
  6. How will the attacks impact political rallies and mass mobilization? Will Bhutto travel extensively in Punjab?
  7. Did Bhutto’s intelligence come from India via Afghanistan?
  8. Will Musharraf go soft on the military-intel figures if they were involved in the attacks, but hard on jihadis in FATA (though they might have not been involved)?
  9. Will he use the attacks a pre-text for a massive, conclusive operation in FATA?

UPDATES

  • 10/22/2007 – 3:15PM -
    • I intended to note this in my original posting, forgot to do so, but was reminded Mushtaq Minhas made the point on AAJ TV’s Bolta Pakistan show that two of Pakistan’s leaders were assassinated — Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 and President Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 — and the perpetrators of the act were never identified.
    • Assassination, violent political transitions, and intrigue date back to early in Pakistan’s history. These destructive impulses remain. And while Pakistan has an active and open press, that will not necessarily preclude the story from ‘closing’ with essential questions unanswered. The media (and public opinion) is a machine that can be manipulated and so much else can occur in between now and mid-January to ‘sandwich’ this story or push it to the side. In other words, there is a strong likelihood that the specific perpetrators of the act — and perhaps their organization affiliations — will be identified, but the elite forces behind them, if there were any, won’t be noted.
    • I would not consider this a defeat for those who hope for a Pakistan that features: peaceful, institutionalized transitions of power; competitive politics; representative and good governance; and public accountability. The attacks can still be leveraged to forge a consensus among Pakistan’s discordant elite on norms of conduct and engagement, consolidate public support against the use of violence in politics, and open up the political process to those that have been marginalized.
  • 10/22/2007 – 3:58PM –
    • Sindh Governor Ishrat-ul-Ibad tells the NYT’s Carlotta Gall that there were two suicide bombers, carrying, respectively, 17-22 lbs and 33 lbs of C-4 explosives (not RDX). There were two heads found. Pakistani authorities previously stated that the second head was that of a victim and that the first blast was from a grenade.
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BB Strikes Back: Press Conference Coverage

In the footer of the previous post, “The Massacre at Karsaz Bridge: Analysis of the Bhutto Blast (Part 1),” I posted real-time updates of Benazir Bhutto’s press conference at Bilawal House this afternoon Pakistan Standard Time. The press conference was long and my summary ended up becoming lengthy, deserving a separate post. It is below.

UPDATE: 7:43 AM - Press conference will be starting late. Extra-stringent security measures being taken slowing down entrance of journalists into Bhutto home.

UPDATE: 7:55 AM – Former Interior Minister and Bhutto loyalist Retd. Gen. Naseerullah Babar rejected any connections of Baitullah Mehsud to the Bhutto blasts. He said Mehsud’s men could not have carried out the attacks as they lack the language skills and ability to mix in Karachi. Above all, Mehsud had in recent days denied threatening attacks against Benazir upon her return to Pakistan (which we noted in our previous post). Babar rejects the grenade attack claim by the government, instead stating that a timed/triggered device was used.

UPDATE: 8:04 AM - Benazir Bhutto’s press conference has begun. She’s presently reading a statement.

UPDATE: 8:08 AM - The press conference is a logistical mess. Seems like it was in the veranda. One Pakistani channel only has video and another only has audio. Bhutto has proposed splitting up the conference, enabling her to deal separately with photographers, Pakistani journalists, and foreign journalists.

UPDATE: 8:12 AM - The sound system at the press conference does not work or does not exist. It will resume when a working one is set up.

UPDATE: 8:24 AM - Bhutto is now speaking in English. She says [paraphrased]:

  • Didn’t want the top PPP leadership in the truck with her. Knew there would be an attack and didn’t want the entire leadership taken out.
  • Originally, her party’s MNAs were not going to be in the truck, but that decision was reversed.
  • She and her camp noticed that the street lights were shut off at sunset on Shahar-e Faisal.
  • She doesn’t blame the government. Tried to get in touch with National Security Adviser, Tariq Aziz, but was unsuccessful.
  • Her security advisers were having trouble identifying suicide bombers and assassins within the crowd. Claims that if the street lights were on, her guards would have been able to identify the suicide bombers.
  • Sherry Rehman tried to text message members of the press, noting the security challenges.
  • Her security team started scanning the crowds with floodlights. Her security guards arrested one man with a pistol. Thirteen minutes before the first bomb blast, her media cell received a call from the PPP camp at Nursery (area of Karachi) stating they found a man with a suicide belt, handed him over to the police, but were not satisfied with their response.
  • Bhutto says she personally witnessed Arif Khan, the ARY cameraman, as he lost his life.

UPDATE: 8:25 AM - Benazir says:

  • Initial reaction to the first blast was that it was firecrackers.
  • Blast occurred as Abida Hussain was suggesting to her that they should mention their program for bringing representative government to the Tribal Areas to counter extremism.
  • The truck stopped for some reason after the second blast.
  • Shots were fired toward the truck, likely at the tires, and this was either immediately before the suicide bombings or afterwards. [In other words, the lone bomber theory espoused by the Interior Ministry is bogus in her opinion. Bhutto later suggests there is more than one suicide bomber, and the comments above perhaps suggest that there were accomplices in the area issuing fire].

UPDATE: 8:27 AM - Benazir continues:

  • The suicide bomber (second , if there were more than one) was directly thwarted by her volunteer guards. He managed to get close but he hit the front of the truck, while Benazir and her political secretary were in the back. Could have been worse.

UPDATE: 8:30 AM - Now she’s describing the heroics of other PPP politicians.

UPDATE: 8:31 AM - Benazir says:

  • She and other PPP leaders owe their lives to those who strengthened their cordon around the truck after the first blast.
  • The second blast was so strong that it put a dent in the hefty armored truck. Could have been much, much worse without that cordon.
  • At least 50 of her security guards have died.
  • “This was a dastardly and cowardly attack…the first in the history of Pakistan…of multiple suicide attacks on a political leader.”
  • Says suicide attacks are against Islam. Innocents men, a young woman and child died.
  • Says three security guards sitting on the edge of her truck also died.
  • Street was littered with dead bodies and glass.
  • Police bravely did their duty.
  • Adds, “These armed militants want to destroy Pakistan…want to damage Islam…want to destroy the political, socio-economic hopes of Pakistan through a democratic order.”
  • Salutes heroes and parents of these brave children. Wishes to thank all the party workers and supporters of democracy.


UPDATES: 8:47 AM - Bhutto continues:

  • “What does the attack last night signify? The attack was more than the unity and integrity of Pakistan. The attack was not an attack on an individual. It wasn’t an attack on me. The attack was on what I represent. It was an attack on democracy. It was an attack on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan — because the PPP is a federal party that cuts across Pakistan’s economic, ethnic, provincial and religious divides. It was an attack on Pakistan’s progress. The unity of Pakistan depends on democratic order. It’s an attack on the Pakistani people’s empowerment. It wasn’t an attack on just one political leader. It was on all political leaders in the Pakistan — whether they’re in the ARD or not.
  • The message they’re trying to send: “All those who believe in democracy that you can’t do a campaign, that if you do a campaign we’ll kill you, don’t go out, don’t express your fundamental rights of political expression.”
  • It was attack of a militant minority that thrived under a military dictatorship in the 70s and 80s, like Al-Badr of 70s and “thugs” from the Zia era.
  • Or militants of the present era who wish to kill and maim innocent people.
  • Militants are saying that peace-loving people are not safe together; the only safe people are the militants because no one attacks them.
  • They’re a minority that wants to hijack the destiny of the nation. This is a battle for democracy. We wish it to be peaceful. We wish it to be political.
  • Negotiations with Musharraf were begun to avoid bloodshed.
  • Willing to risk our lives and liberty to save Pakistan and democracy from militant takeover — not willing to give up the country to them. The militants are killing our armed forces in tribal areas of Pakistan. They want to dissipate energy of this great nation. I and my colleagues want to save Pakistan, and saving Pakistan requires saving democracy. We can make our people the guardians of democracy to guard this great land of ours.
  • We will not stop our campaign. We will not stop our struggle — despite the heavy loss we incurred yesterday. This is the land that gave us birth. This land to which we’ll return.
  • We do not want Pakistan to disintegrate into little fiefdoms run by warlords, issuing their fatwas. We appeal to all the citizens of Pakistan, to all those who are true Muslims to look into their hearts and not support violence, but instead support peace, political change, and democracy.
  • “The attack last night was a message sent by the enemies of democracy, the enemies of Pakistan, the enemies of political parties of the country, and the enemy of Islam.”
  • The attacks were an attempt to blackmail us and all workers for human rights. Not just the political parties, but also civil groups. These militants are against a value system – the value system of pluralism and equal rights, gender equality and empowerment.
  • I have no problem with those who have a different view than mine. I have a problem with those who take up weapons to force others into submission. The people of Pakistan will not be forced into submission.
  • Dictatorship fuels extremism. These cowards attacked a woman, unarmed men and kids accompanying me.
  • I let it known to the perpetrators of the crime that the PPP will not be deterred.
  • It is imperative for us to save Pakistan — to save Pakistan through democracy, to save the fundamental rights of our people.
  • The PPP will offer janazah (funeral) prayers for all those who lost their lives on October 21.
  • Those who called me include Musharraf, Karzai, Advani from India, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain, Asfandyar Wali (leader of ANP), Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, several high commissioners and embassies. [Note who wasn't mentioned. Shaukat Aziz and the Chaudhry Cousins.]

UPDATE: 8:48 AM - Benazir says:

  • Before I came to Pakistan it was conveyed to me that several suicide squads had been sent to kill me. The information was received from a brotherly Muslim country [i.e. Afghanistan]. There would be a suicide squad from Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and finally, one from Karachi. The source also gave the telephone numbers of some of these suicide bombers and their handlers. This information was passed on to the government of Pakistan. She hopes that with so much information the government could have apprehend them, but understands the difficulty.
  • She was advised not to come, but says she also gave her word to the people of Pakistan. She says, in Urdu, that she gave her word to her people and .
  • She wrote to Musharraf that if someone does something to her, she won’t blame the Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, or Al Qaeda, but “those people, that in my opinion, mislead people.”
  • She says that she knows who are the forces of militancy. They are cowards. She has named three people and more in that letter.
  • She appeals to people in the government to continue giving her intelligence.
  • The next attack: She hears the next attack will be consist of placing operatives in the police department near her homes in Clifton and Larkana. Commandos will be sent in the garb of a rival political party [i.e. MQM] and the rival party will be blamed. She shared this information with Musharraf’s government and is confident that they won’t let this attack materialize.
  • Clarifies she is accusing the government, rather she is accusing certain people who “abuse their positions and powers.”
  • Says, “I know the battle to save Pakistan will require a heroic effort and the people will support us to protect our country from a militant threat.”
  • Adds that it is important that all the moderate forces join together. Militancy is not a threat to an individual, but to the unity and integrity of Pakistan, and the image and true message of Islam.

UPDATE: 8:56AM - During Q&A, Benazir says:

  • She won’t mention those three names.
  • States that a journalist told her that a retired military official told him that the MQM would try to assassinate her, but it’s not true. Other political parties are “just red herrings.”
  • “Insha’Allah there won’t be any need to same these names.”

UPDATE: 9:00 AM - Bhutto clarifies:

  • The government itself is not involved, but she thinks certain individuals [within it] are.
  • She adds that empowering the people will defeat terror, but there are major vested interests in terror, e.g. drug money.

UPDATE: 9:02 AM - Q&A continues:

  • Bhutto says, “We think it was a suicide attack.”

UPDATE: 9:05 AM - The evening call to prayer is going on. Press conference taking a short break.

UPDATE: 9:08 AM - Press conference has resumed. Bhutto’s speaking on what she sees as the message of Islam.

UPDATE: 9:11 AM - Q&A continues:

  • Bhutto says, “I will stay here. I will come and go because I lecture here and there and also will visit my children…..There is no importance to my life….Elections must be held. Without elections, violence will worsen. We will have to show courage. We need political solutions to political problems. The use of force is important sometimes, but it is not enough.”

UPDATE: 9:12 AM - Press conference has completed. I will make the notes above more comprehensible.

UPDATE: 3:06 PM - Revision completed.

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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?

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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?

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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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BREAKING NEWS: Two blasts near Benazir Bhutto’s convoy

Pakistani television stations are reporting that two blasts occurred near the convoy of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned today to Pakistan, ending eight years of exile. The blasts apparently were very strong, occurring perhaps two minutes apart, as Bhutto’s armored truck crossed a flyover. The first was at 12:09AM Pakistan time (3:09 PM EST). There are individuals injured. One report stated that the blast occurred near Bhutto’s truck, but another witness has stated that Bhutto and senior People’s Party figures accompanying her were not impacted by the blast.

LIVE broadcast of Pakistani television stations (including Aaj TV and TV One) via JumpTV is available on our site.

UPDATE: 3:21 PM – GEO reports that at least 10 individuals are injured, that the first blast was weak and was followed by a much stronger explosion.

UPDATE: 3:24 PM - A People’s Party spokesperson states that Benazir Bhutto will continue to head toward the Quaid’s Mazar (mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and address thousands of supporters there as planned.

UPDATE: 3:28 PM – A Land Cruiser in front of a car carrying Bhutto supporters reportedly went on fire shortly after the blast. Not sure if this indicates a car bomb was involved.

UPDATE: 3:31 PM – An AAJ TV correspondent on the scene reports at 18 dead on the scene. Very sad news.

UPDATE: 3:35 PM – A GEO TV correspondent quotes Aitzaz Ahsan as saying that the blasts occurred in IMMEDIATE proximity to Benazir Bhutto’s truck, but she remains fine.

UPDATE: 3:38 PM – GEO anchor Kamran Khan says that the first blast was perhaps a triggered bomb while the second blast could have been a suicide attack.

UPDATE: 3:53 PM – Benazir Bhutto has arrived safely at Bilawal House in Karachi’s Clifton area.

UPDATE: 3:55 PM – The death toll is now over 30, including a cameraman for ARY television named Arif Khan.

UPDATE: 4:04 PM – Supporters of Benazir Bhutto remain on the scene, chanting against the government and Sindh Chief Minister and Bhutto-foe Arbab Rahim.

UPDATE: 4:10 PM - Benazir Bhutto was inside the truck when the blasts occurred. She spent much of the day outside on the top of the truck. Most or all of those in the immediate vicinity of the truck have been reportedly killed.

UPDATE: 4:21 PM - Schools will be closed in tomorrow. There is an immediate need for blood in Karachi and hospitals are requesting donations.

UPDATE: 4:34 - Aaj TV reports that an unconfirmed 78 individuals killed in the blast. Jinnah Hospital and Civil Hospital in Karachi has a serious blood shortage and is requesting donors. The fate of the injured is very bleak. Karachi suffers from endemic traffic. It is a bloated megacity with a horrible infrastructure. The only real ambulance service is provided by a non-profit, the Edhi Foundation.

UPDATE: 4:46 - The vehicle suspected as containing the bomb/bomber reportedly did not have a license on it.

UPDATE: 4:59 - Benazir Bhutto requested jamming devices for her vehicle from the government. As of two days ago, she was negotiating with the government and it is unclear if she was provided with the technology for her armored personnel carrier (pictured below).

UPDATE: 5:34 - Benazir Bhutto is secure in Bilawal House along with Amin Fahim, Mehmood Quraishi, and various PPP National Assembly members. The death toll is now over 100.

UPDATE: 5:44 - Asif Zardari, the husband of Benazir Bhutto, is speaking on AAJ TV right now. He condemned the attacks and expressed his sympathy and condolences for those killed in the attacks, including journalists. He said the attackers are those indicated in a letter by Bhutto to Musharraf (reported in the Guardian, see below). He hasn’t informed his daughters of the attacks, but called his son, Bilawal, who is a first-year student at Oxford.

UPDATE: 5:56 - Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is speaking on television now. He says that suicide bombing is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan, the government should have taken extraordinary preparations to prevent an attack against Bhutto, and the security agencies failed in instituting a fool-proof defense of Bhutto. When asked about who was responsible, Sharif refused to answer, saying that the responsibility is on the government as it is the ultimate defender of national security. When asked about when he’ll return to Pakistan, things turned strange. Sharif’s voice weakened and he tersely replied, “When the people of Pakistan call for me.” After a few seconds of silence the call ended. He sounded very dispirited and perhaps on the verge of crying.

UPDATE: 6:08 - Senior PPP figure Abida Hussain is among the injured.

UPDATE: 6:11 - The death toll is now 124. Four hundred are injured. Unfortunately the figures will likely rise as a result of Pakistan’s poor urban infrastructure, hospital system, and ambulatory services.

UPDATE: 6:14 - Karachi’s Bomb Disposal Service (BDS) states that there was a bomb planted in a vehicle and there was no suicide attack.

UPDATE: 6:30 - AAJ TV reports that a bomb disposal squad has reached the Bilawal House, the Karachi home of Benazir Bhutto — and that this is a preventative measure.

UPDATE: 7:00 - GEO reports that Bhutto’s vehicle was underneath a flyover/overpass (not crossing one as I stated before) when the blasts occurred. Additionally, the car with the bomb/bomber could have been a Suzuki Alto and not a Toyota Land Cruiser, as mentioned above.

UPDATE: 8:17 - State Minister of Information Tariq Azeem Khan condemned the attacks on BBC News and stated that this is precisely the reason why his government asked Bhutto to delay her return to the country. He strongly suggested that militants made her a target after she stated that she would permit U.S. troops to act against Osama bin Laden on Pakistan soil should Islamabad lack the capacity to do so.

UPDATE: 8:33 - The attack occurred on Shahre Faisal (Faisal Road) in between Karachi’s Quaid-e Azam Airport and the Mazar-e Quaid (Jinnah’s Mausoleum) while Bhutto’s caravan was underneath an overpass in close proximity to a gas station (Pakistan State Oil). In other words, the damage could have been far worse.

UPDATE: 8:43 - For several hours, CNN.com has been providing a live feed of Pakistan’s most popular private channel, GEO. However, GEO stopped live coverage of the attacks over half an hour ago (it’s after 5AM in Pakistan) and is broadcasting a pre-recorded religious program (Javed Ghamidi’s show). It’s an Urdu channel, so I figure the folks at CNN.com have no idea what’s being said on the screen.

WHO DID IT?

Very preliminary thoughts.

PRIMARY SUSPECTS:

LONG SHOTS:

  • Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) [Profile]: Ethnic party, consisting of Urdu-speaking migrants to Pakistan. Member of Musharraf’s ruling coalition with violent history. Currently govern the city of Karachi and province of Sindh. Led by self-exiled Altaf Hussain (lives in London), the group led a wave of terrorism in the early 1990s, which was quashed by the Pakistan Army. The party is a major rival of Bhutto’s PPP and stands to lose significantly from Bhutto coming back to power, including leadership of the Sindh province (which is Bhutto’s base of support). Their party workers attacked PPP workers during the violence on the occasion of the Supreme Court Chief Justice’s ill-fated visit to Karachi. The group, however, has no history of suicide attacks.
  • Heads of major party in the ruling coalition, the PML-Q: President of the ruling PML-Q party Chaudhry Shujaat and his cousin Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Ellahi. They stand to lose the most from Bhutto coming back to power. They tried very much to prevent the deal with Musharraf and Bhutto’s return. Relations between them and the Bhutto camp have become very hostile as of late.
  • Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party: This is the most far-fetched scenario, mirroring the claims that Pervez Musharraf staged the assassination attempts against him in order to further Western support. Bhutto spent much of her time on top of the modified (perhaps crudely) armored truck, but went to the more secure bottom of the vehicle prior to the blast. The attack could provide Bhutto with the political space to take a more anti-Musharraf, anti-establishment line, regain the legitimacy she lost as a result of making a deal with Musharraf, and instead of sharing power with him, go for the entire plate. However, the likelihood of the attacks being staged from the inside is extremely low, considering that the Bhutto camp lacks connections to the security establishment and the armored vehicle Bhutto was traveling in was not advanced.
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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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