- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A burst of gunfire went off as President Pervez Musharraf’s plane left a military base today. One official described it as a failed assassination attempt.

Security forces quickly raided a nearby home with two anti-aircraft guns on the roof, taking in the owner for questioning and searching for a couple who rented the property this week, officials said.

“It was an unsuccessful effort by miscreants to target the president’s plane,” a senior security official said. The official, like those who described the raid on the house, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. “They fled quickly, and our security agencies are still investigating.”

The government, however, said it had yet to establish whether the gunfire was an attack on Gen. Musharraf.

“At the moment, there does not appear to be any linkage between the incident and the president’s flight,” the government said.

The senior security official said Gen. Musharraf was aboard when the plane came under fire but insisted the aircraft was not within range of the attempt in Rawalpindi, a garrison city south of the capital where Gen. Musharraf narrowly escaped two attempts on his life in 2003.

Photographs taken from an overlooking building showed a large gun on a tripod pointed skyward and a machine gun next to a rusty satellite-TV dish and a plastic water tank on the flat roof of the two-story building.

The Pakistani president has come under increasing criticism for his decision to suspend the country’s chief justice, and his government faces pressure in the capital, where the top-ranking cleric of a radical mosque besieged by government forces rejected calls for an unconditional surrender today, saying he and his die-hard followers were ready for martyrdom.

According to state-run Pakistan Television, Gen. Musharraf flew from the air base today and later safely landed in Turbat, a remote southwestern town where he was to inspect efforts to bring relief to hundreds of thousands of people affected by recent catastrophic flooding.

Gen. Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, narrowly escaped two bombings within 11 days that targeted his limousine in December 2003. In the second blast, a suicide attack, 16 persons died, mostly police officers. Both attempts occurred in Rawalpindi.

Police later arrested dozens of people in connection with the attacks on the general, and the detainees included low-ranking air force personnel, an army soldier and civilians.