108 die in blasts near Bhutto in Karachi
108 die in blasts near Bhutto in Karachi
By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer
18 minutes ago
A suspected suicide bomber struck Thursday night near a truck carrying former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on her triumphant return to Pakistan after eight years in exile. An official said 108 people were killed and many were wounded although Bhutto escaped unhurt.
Associated Press photographer B.K. Bangash at the scene said he saw between 50 and 60 dead or badly injured people. He said some of the bodies were ripped apart when the blast occurred more than 15 hours into a procession that was carrying Bhutto from the airport to the tomb of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, where she planned to give a speech.
"People were shouting for help but there was no one to help them out. It smelled like blood and smoke," said Bangash, who was 50 yards from Bhutto's truck when he heard a small blast just before midnight.
He went closer, and "then I saw a big explosion and dozens of people started running," he said. "It was a smaller car that was blown up. Another police van was fire."
He said the area was littered with bodies, many of them motorcyclists who were using their bikes because the roads were blocked.
The bombs exploded just after Bhutto's truck had crossed a bridge about halfway from the airport to the tomb. The truck had come to a halt between a mosque and an office block, and those traveling atop it with Bhutto climbed down, with one man jumping off. The blast shattered windows in her vehicle.
An AP photo showed a dazed-looking Bhutto being helped away.
Bhutto is expected to seek the premiership for an unprecedented third time and partner in ruling Pakistan with U.S.-backed President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Police Chief Azhar Farooqi told Dawn News that Bhutto was rushed from the area under contingency plans.
"She was evacuated very safely and is now in Bilawal House," Farooqi said, referring to Bhutto's residence in Karachi.
The bloodshed dims hopes that Bhutto's return could quickly bring harmony to a country laboring under military rule and wracked by the struggle between religious moderates and extremists.
It will burden Bhutto's talks with Musharraf that raised the prospect of them forming a pro-U.S. alliance after January parliamentary elections.
It could also revive speculation that Musharraf will resort to martial law if the security situation â€” or his political dominance â€” are seriously threatened.
Officials at four hospitals reported a total of 108 dead and 150 wounded.
Dr. Seemi Jamali at Jinnah Hospital said it had 34 dead from the blasts.
A man who identified himself only as Dr. Faisal at Liaqat National Hospital reported 40 killed, including a cameraman for Pakistan's ARY network and several police. Civil Hospital reported 29 dead. Two other hospitals reported a total of five dead.
Police officer Raja Umer Khitab put the death toll on 82, including several police officers. "Evidence available at the scene is suggesting it was suicide bombing and he exploded near police vehicles destroying the two police vans escorting Benazir Bhutto's truck."
The United States condemned "the violent attack in Pakistan and mourns the loss of innocent life there," said Gordon Johndroe, foreign affairs spokesman for President Bush. "Extremists will not be allowed to stop Pakistanis from selecting their representatives through an open and democratic process."
The police vehicle appeared to bear the brunt of the blast, provincial Home Secretary Ghulam Mohammed Mohtaram said.
Video from the scene of the blasts showed bodies on the ground under a mural that read "Long Live Bhutto."
Pools of blood, broken glass, tires, motorcycles and bits of clothing littered the ground near where the bombs went off. Men moved the injured away from the fires near the blast site. One bystander came upon a body, checked for signs of life, and moved on, presumably to find more who could be saved.
The wounded were carried in stretchers from ambulances and rushed them into a hospital emergency room. Some were carried in the arms of others. Many of the wounded were covered in blood, and some had their clothes ripped off.
Outside, dozens of people walked around in a daze.
Pickup trucks filled with men rushed away from the scene and others began to run, but many more stayed and milled in between the police vehicle and those of the procession.
The blasts came at the end of a long day that saw tens of thousands of supporters give Bhutto a rapturous welcome at Karachi airport upon her arrival from Dubai amid heavy security.
Bhutto claimed 3 million were on hand, but the crowd looked much smaller â€” about 150,000. The size reflected the former prime minister's enduring political clout despite eight years in exile.
The security precautions failed to dampen the spirit of huge crowds. Hundreds of buses and other vehicles festooned with billboards welcoming her back were parked bumper-to-bumper along the boulevard from the airport to the city center.
Bhutto had been traveling on a truck equipped with a bulletproof glass cubicle to the tomb of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, to give a speech.
Authorities had urged her to use a helicopter to reduce the risk of attack. But Bhutto, hated by radical Islamists because she supports the U.S.-led war on terrorism, brushed off the concerns.
"I am not scared. I am thinking of my mission," she had told reporters on the plane. "This is a movement for democracy because we are under threat from extremists and militants."
She was squeezed between other party officials at the front of the truck rather than in the bulletproof cubicle toward the rear. Armed guards escorted the truck.
Bhutto recently courted controversy in Pakistan by saying that she would cooperate with the American military in targeting Osama bin Laden, and authorities warned that Islamic militants could launch suicide attacks and roadside bombings against her.
Asked about such threats on Wednesday in Dubai, Bhutto said Islam forbids suicide bombings and attacks on her. "Muslims know if they attack a woman they will burn in hell," she said.
The provincial government had appealed to Bhutto to abandon plans for a snail-paced grand procession through Karachi, saying it would leave her vulnerable. The government said the main threat was from Taliban and al-Qaida.
"I feel very, very emotional coming back to my country," Bhutto told AP Television News at the airport, as thousands of supporters of her Pakistan People's Party massed outside amid a sea of the party's red, green and black flags.
When she descended the steps of the commercial jetliner, Bhutto was in tears.
"I counted the hours, I counted the minutes and the seconds, just to see this land, to see the grass, to see the sky. I feel so emotionally overwhelmed," Bhutto, who wore a white headscarf and clutched prayer beads in her right hand, told the AP.
"And I hope that I can live up to the great expectations which people here have," she said.
She said she was fighting for democracy and to help this nuclear-armed country of 160 million people defeat the extremism that gave it the reputation as a hotbed of international terrorism.
"That's not the real image of Pakistan. The people that you see outside are the real image of Pakistan. These are the decent and hardworking middle-classes and working classes of Pakistan who want to be empowered so they can build a moderate, modern nation,"
Bhutto, 54, fled Pakistan in the face of corruption charges in 1999. It would take a constitutional amendment for her to be prime minister again; Pakistani law bars leaders from seeking a third term.
Supporters including representatives of Pakistan's minority Christian and Hindu communities and Baluch tribesmen with flowing white turbans, walked toward the airport, while groups of men performed traditional dances, beat drums or shook maracas along the way.
Bhutto paved her route back in negotiations with Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup. Musharraf, whose popularity has waned as violence by Islamic radicals has risen, is promising to give up his command of Pakistan's powerful army if he secures a new term as president.
The talks have yielded an amnesty covering the corruption cases that made Bhutto leave Pakistan in the first place, and could see the archrivals eventually team up to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz welcomed Bhutto's return, saying it would improve the political and help democracy to "flourish."
But Musharraf, who had urged Bhutto to delay while he dealt with legal challenges to his continued rule, stayed silent.
Before boarding her flight from Dubai, Bhutto told reporters that her homecoming felt like a miracle.
"I hope that, as this miracle is happening, that a miracle will happen for the impoverished and poverty-stricken people of Pakistan who are desperate for change, who want safety, who want security, who want opportunity, who want empowerment and employment," she said.