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Musharraf Defiant After Second Assassination Attempt

Musharraf, who was unhurt in the attack, took to the airwaves to condemn Islamic militants, promising to crack down on “extremists.”

Interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said several people were detained for questioning, but he declined to reveal the identity of the bomber or say who was suspected of being behind the attack.

Although the president was not injured by the blast, the windshield of his car in the high-security motorcade was cracked. Pakistani officials said the two car bombs killed at least 14 people, including both bombers. At least 46 other people were wounded.

The president appeared on national television Thursday night, blaming “terrorists and extremists” for the attack.

“This is a targeted action; I am the target,” he said. “These blasts have given new strength to my resolve to eliminate terrorists and extremists from the country, and God willing, this mission will be accomplished.”

“Debris of the blasted vehicle fell on my car, but Allah saved us, and we reached my residence safe and sound,” the general said.

The latest attack occurred in Rawalpindi, a tightly guarded city that is also home to the headquarters of Pakistan’s Army, only 200 yards from where a bomb nearly killed the general on Dec. 14.

The twin assassination attempts come two months after the release of an audiotape purportedly from al-Qaida’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urging Pakistanis to overthrow their secular government. Suspicions immediately centered on Pakistani militants, members of al-Qaida, or a combination of the two.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official told The New York Times that several men from Arab countries were believed to be in Pakistan operating in four separate teams to carry out attacks. The official said members of two Pakistani militant groups, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad, were believed to be in contact with the foreigners.

However, officials are also looking into the possibility that there is an informer inside the Pakistani police or army who is letting the assailants know when the president is traveling and where.

“It is the most serious breach in security since President Musharraf took power four years ago,” Mushahid Hussain, a senator from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, told Reuters. “This shows not only a link between the two attacks, but also that terrorists are well-organized. They have carried out attacks in the heart of Pakistan’s power structure and the most sensitive place where we assume that security is very tight.”

On Wednesday, General Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, announced that he would step down as army chief by the end of next year as part of an agreement with hard-line Islamist opposition parties. His successor is most likely Gen. Muhammad Yusaf Khan, Musharraf’s pro-Western deputy.

The compromise is intended to end a yearlong impasse over 29 constitutional amendments the president unilaterally enacted in 2002. Political opposition parties declared the amendments illegal and have paralyzed the parliament.

The National Assembly met Friday to begin debate to ratify the deal that would keep the general in power until 2007. A vote of confidence is scheduled for January 1.

Musharraf has angered radical Pakistanis by siding with the United States against the Taliban in Afghanistan, standing with the Bush administration in the war against terrorism, and participating in peace talks with India.

At the same time, he has been criticized in the West for delaying the re-establishment of democracy and failing to crack down hard enough on Islamic militant groups.

The security situation has raised concerns for the annual summit meeting of South Asian leaders scheduled in Islamabad from Jan. 4 to 6. India’s prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee– another target for Pakistani militants– plans to attend.

The government vowed the summit would go ahead as scheduled.

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