- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — A bomber blew himself up about a quarter-mile from President Pervez Musharraf’s office yesterday, killing seven persons and deepening Pakistan’s insecurity ahead of crucial elections.

Officials said the attacker detonated his explosives among police at a checkpoint in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, just south of the capital, Islamabad.

Gen. Musharraf was safely inside Army House, about a quarter-mile away, where the blast was clearly heard, said presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi. The checkpoint guards a road leading to the president’s compound and the residences of several top generals.

Police said three of their officers and four civilians were killed, along with the lone assailant. Fourteen policemen and four civilians were wounded.

“When police officers asked him to halt, the attacker panicked. And as the police tried to capture him, he blew himself up,” city police chief Saud Aziz said. “Our officers died to protect the citizens of Pakistan.”

There was no claim of responsibility, and Mr. Qureshi would not speculate on who might be to blame.

Pakistan has been rocked by a string of suicide bombings mostly blamed on Islamist extremists, including the bombing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming parade. The Oct. 18 blast killed more than 140 people in the southern port of Karachi.

Gen. Musharraf went ahead yesterday with the scheduled opening of a highway linking Islamabad with the northwest, and warned extremists to stop killing fellow Muslims or face stern action.

“These terrorists and extremists elements must not retard the country’s economic development by their senseless acts,” Gen. Musharraf said, according to state-run Pakistan Radio.

Mrs. Bhutto vowed yesterday to continue campaigning, saying she would visit Rawalpindi on Nov. 9 despite the violence. She said, however, that she would no longer hold processions like the one that was attacked Oct. 18.

Pakistan has been hit by a series of suicide bombings since Gen. Musharraf cracked down on militants near the Afghan border in July. Two blasts killed 25 persons in Rawalpindi on Sept. 4.

The government acknowledges the border area has become a haven for Taliban militants. Washington worries al Qaeda might be using it to plot new attacks.

Last week, authorities sent troops to tackle supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric in the northwestern district of Swat. Officials said four days of violence there left about 100 people dead.

About 5,000 tribesmen rallied yesterday to demand a halt to military operations against militants in the northwest. The protest was led by Faqir Mohammed, a purported Pakistani associate of al Qaeda’s leaders who is sought for harboring foreign militants.

Mr. Mohammed was guarded by hundreds of supporters, many carrying assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The rally took place in the Bajur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, where a missile attack on a school killed 80 persons a year ago.

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