26 October, 2007
By Amir Latif
Charred body parts littered the road flanked by giant plumes of fire wafting upwards from several burning vehicles as two powerful blasts struck the especially modified lorry of the Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto upon her return after an eight-year long self exile on October 18.
Welcome to Pakistan Ms Bhutto! The terrorists announced with two powerful blasts. Just two minutes before, the celebrations to mark her arrival were at zenith. Cheerful PPP workers, and supporters, not giving a damn to a complete U-turn taken by their leader, were shouting vociferous slogans till the celebrations turned into mayhem.
Ms Bhutto attired in a green loose tunic, white trousers, her head covered by a white scarf, matching the Pakistani flag, was waving to tens of thousands of cheerful party workers and supporters who gathered outside the Karachi airport to welcome her.
Ms Bhutto, who remained unhurt, was leading a 3 kilometers-long procession at the main highway of the commercial hub of Pakistan, Sharae Faisal -- standing behind the bullet proof screen of a especially modified lorry equipped with bomb jamming devices and cordoned off by some 300 trained security guards throughout her journey.
Additionally, the PPP had hired some 5,000 private guards to escort Benazir’s convoy, besides 20,000 police paramilitary troops backed by sniffers and surveillance helicopters.
The explosions, declared as usual an act of suicide bomber, occurred within two minutes of each another while Ms Bhutto was culminating a several-hour procession from the airport to Mazar-e-Quaid.
The first explosion occurred at 12:10 am, just 10 minutes after the day ended 100 meters away from Karsaz Flyover, which is surrounded by Pakistan navy installations. The intensity of the first explosion was relatively light as it was earlier considered a tire flat.
As soon as the first blast occurred, the PPP workers and journalists ran towards the venue. This Paktribune correspondent was stopped by the security people, who had covered around 100-meter area saying, "nothings has happened. It’s a tire gone flat". " No, a PMT has went off", another security guard shouted. All of a sudden, the second explosion occurred with a big bang with giant plumes of fire rising upwards amid hue and cry.
The second blast was so powerful as it badly damaged the bulletproof lorry, and burst its tyres. According to eyewitnesses, Ms Bhutto miraculously survived as she had left the roof of the lorry and snuggled into the lower portion just five minutes before.
The PPP’s vice chairman, Makhdoom Yousaf Raza Gillani, President of the party’s Balochistan chapter, Nawabzada Lashkari Raeesani, and Begum Syed Abida Hussein received injuries. Hundreds of bodies and injured were lying on either side of Share Faisal crying for help. Blood was running like a stream on the road as several bodies were torn into pieces.
A shocked and pale Benazir Bhutto was evacuated by the security guards, who managed to survive and shifted to Bilawal House. She appeared to be so tense and shocked as one could not believe that she was so confident and jubilant just two minutes before.
Benazir left one of her shoes and bulletproof jacket, which she was not wearing at the time of blast. Ironically, the entire PPP leadership, which remained unhurt immediately fled from the scene leaving their dead and injured workers, crying for help as ambulances reached after 15 minutes of the explosions. Several injured who could have been shifted to hospital in private vehicles of the PPP leaders who took a few minutes to leave the venue, died of excessive bleeding.
As the PPP workers lying on Sharae Faisal and crying for help, the fame hungry PPP leaders, Nisar Khuhro, Sherry Rehman, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Qaim Ali Shah, Jehangir Badar and others were giving interviews to the media personnel.
A joke is in circulation in the city nowadays stating, "Benazir took 8 hours to cover 6 kilometers before blasts, and took 15 minutes to cover 15 kilometers after the blasts".
As per expectations, security agencies were quick enough to point finger on al-Qaeda galvanized militant groups. However, Ms Bhutto, who did try to get advantage of the blame on al-Qaeda in the form of international support, but she held, "elements within the government" responsible for the assassination attempt.
"I had already mentioned three names in my letter to General Musharraf and told him that if something wrong happens to me, these three will be responsible for that," she told a crowded press conference on the second day of the blast at her sprawling residence, Bilawal House.
However, despite repeated questions, she refused to tell the names of the three suspects. It seems if Ms Bhutto wants the confusion regarding the three suspects to prevail in order to keep her political rivals under pressure. Who knows who could be one of the three suspects?
Political circles believe that two of the three suspects are Director General Intelligence Bureau, Brigadier (Retd) Ejaz Shah, and former chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Hassan Waseem Afzal.
Ms Bhutto has openly blamed the IB chief for "sabotaging" the deal between her and General Musharraf. The PPP chairperson has hurled similar allegations against Major General Hussein Mehdi, the then Director General Punjab Rangers, and brother-in-law of the former Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshall, Mushaf Ali Mir in 2004.
Ms Bhutto started taking Hassan Waseem Afzal as her personal enemy after he seriously pursued cases against her. PPP sources told weekly Pulse that Hassan Waseem Afzal and Brigadier Shah could be named as masterminds of the assassination plot by Ms Bhutto.
However, in their preliminary investigation report, submitted to President Gen Pervez Musharraf, the intelligence agencies have rejected the involvement of the three suspects in the terrorist attack.
Ms Bhutto’s spouse, Asif Zardari blames the Intelligence Bureau (IB) responsible for the attack. "This was not the act of militants. An intelligence agency is involved in the attack", Asif Zardari, the spouse of Ms Bhutto told a local TV channel", Zardari says demanding a thorough investigation as regards involvement of the intelligence agency in the terrorist attack.
Farhatullah Babar, the spokesman of Ms Bhutto told newsmen that she has demanded of General Musharraf to remove the head of IB from his office, who according to her is responsible for the terrorist attack.
Benazir Bhutto very rightly points out that the street lights at a big portion of Sharae Faisal were switched off as soon as the dusk approached. She contacted the National Security Council Advisor, Tariq Aziz, and informed him about that. However, nothing favourable happened. Newsmen covering the event were also surprised that as soon as the day got dark, the streetlights were switched off.
Another serious question, which supports Ms Bhutto’s contention about establishment’s involvement in the attack, is the transfer of senior police officials just 10 days before her arrival.
Well-placed sources in police department told Paktribune that the DIG East, Mir Zubair Mahmood, who is known as an intelligent and experienced police officer, was transferred just 10 days before Ms Bhutto’s arrival, and a 19-grade police officer, Sain Rakhio Mirani, who doesn’t qualify for this post, which is meant for a 20-grade officer, was appointed as DIG East on October 7.
The interesting fact is that Mir Zubair had been actively involved in security arrangements and he designed the bulletproof lorry that carried and then saved her life. Mir, who shot to fame in Daniel Pearl, and Pakistani cricket coach, Bob Woolmer’s murder cases.
Sources quoted IG Sindh Zia-ul-Hassan as saying that he was under pressure to transfer Mir.
The security plan, which was finalized by the SSP security, had a single line statement for the very first time in the history. The line was " In case of emergency outrage, the close protection team will also act as evacuation team".
Police sources say that such directive has never been given to close protection team, which is responsible to physically protect the VIPs from close range.
SUICIDE BOMBING OR BLAST
Though, the security agencies have declared the terrorist attack an act of suicide bombers, however bomb disposal officials and security experts are skeptical about that.
In fact, security agencies contest each other’s claims. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, and Sindh’s Interior Advisor Waseem Akhtar claim that two suicide bombers were involved in the attack, whereas security agencies claim that the suicide bomber hurled the grenade first, and then blew himself up. The bomb disposal squad doubts that it was a suicide attack. "It seems if the bombs were planted either in two of vehicles or along the footpath", a senior bomb disposal squad told weekly Pulse. Eyewitnesses are also skeptical bout the suicide bombing claims. "I was clinging to the lorry when I saw a police vehicle tossed in the air with a powerful explosion. I fell on the ground, and lost my senses", Niaz Ali, one of the security guards surrounding Ms Bhutto’s motorcade said.
Faisal Raza Abidi, the security advisor to Ms Bhutto and the police insist the carnage was the result of suicide bombing.
"The first blast was the result of a planted bomb in one of the police vehicle, but the second one was a hundred per cent suicide attack", he says adding that a suicide bomber tried to proceed towards the lorry but was intercepted by the security guards. "When security guards tried to stop him, he blew himself up", Raza said. However, he could not give any description of the suspected suicide bomber.
Abidi’s claim is rejected by former FIA director Rehman Malik who was with Ms Bhutto on the lorry.
Malik said that circumstances and evidences suggest that bombs were planted either in the vehicles or somewhere along the road.
Manzoor Mughal, the deputy inspector general of Karachi police’s investigation wing says the police have found the heads of two suspected bombers.
Newsmen witnessed many severed heads lying on the road after the explosions. No one knows under which formula, Mughal picked two heads and declared them that of the suspected suicide bombers.
"It seems weird to me that out of hundreds of bodies and injured lying on the road, the police immediately found the head and declared it that of the suspected suicide bomber", Kamal Haider, a senior defense and security analyst said.
"It has become a fashion in Pakistan to declare every incident of terrorism the result of suicide bombing. Several body parts were lying on the road after the explosions. I don’t know on what basis, the police pointed out of the heads lying there and declared that of the suspected suicide bomber", he added.
"It seems if this time too the security agencies will close the file of this case by declaring it a suicide attack," he said.
The Sindh Home Secretary, Brigadier Ghulam Mohammed Mohtaram, claims that the suicide bomber was carrying 15 kg of explosives. He, however, could not explain how can a person hide 15 kg of explosive under his shirt, when security around the lorry was so tight, and no one was allowed to break the 100-meter circle?
According to explosives experts, if the quantity of explosive material is 15 kg, then its actual weight equals 35 kg, as the additional bearings and shots, which are aimed to increase the destruction capacity of the material, are not less than 20 kg. They say it is not believable that a person or persons carry 35 kg of weight, and no one observes that.
The home secretary points out that no crater was found on the venue suggesting that it was not a bomb blast but a suicide attack.
However, the explosives experts reject his claims.
"It was a myth only that if a bomb is planted, and goes off, it will definitely create a crater. It might have been correct in 1960s, but nowadays the technology has advanced", a senior explosives expert told weekly Pulse.
He believes it was a remote control or time bomb blast.
"Both ways could be used to explode a convoy. If the frame-charge of explosive material is set in a horizontal direction, then it will never create a crater. Because it will hit only horizontal direction," he said.
Asked if jamming devices were installed in the lorry, then why didn’t it work, he said the jamming device jams the signals only. It doesn’t block the timer.
"The battery of jamming device doesn’t work more than two hours. When the rally reached the Karsaz Bridge, the batteries of the jammers became too weak to block the signals", he maintained.
Former ISI chief, Lt Gen Hameed Gul endorses this contention.
"If this is the criteria for a suicide bombing that the security agencies have found two heads from the venue, then what will they say about various severed heads lying at Edhi center", he said and added "when such a huge explosion occurred, bodies are torn into pieces, some badly and some partially, but it doesn’t mean that the badly damaged body must be that of suicide bomber".
He says the terrorist groups nowadays are using latest jumping mine technology, which is controlled by remote in the air and hit the target.