- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A militant group claimed responsibility in the name of al Qaeda yesterday for a failed assassination attempt against Pakistan’s prime minister-designate and threatened more attacks unless Pakistan stops handing over captured militants to the United States.

The suicide bombing targeting Shaukat Aziz after a campaign rally Friday killed at least nine persons and wounded three dozen others. It came hours after Pakistan announced the capture of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an al Qaeda suspect on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

Pakistani officials said the attack had al Qaeda’s fingerprints — which would make it the latest attempt blamed on Osama bin Laden’s terror network to take out Pakistan’s leadership. President Pervez Musharraf survived two assassination attempts in December, one of which killed 17 persons.

Gen. Musharraf has been a top U.S. ally in the war on terror, infuriating Muslim radicals in Pakistan and elsewhere, and his security services have arrested a number of top al Qaeda-linked figures, most recently Ghailani.

In a statement posted on an Islamic Web site, a group calling itself the “Islambouli Brigades of al Qaeda” said it was behind Friday’s blast.

“One of our blessed battalions tried to hunt a head of one of America’s infidels in Pakistan while he was returning from Fateh Jang, but God wanted him to survive,” said the Arabic-language statement by the group.

The statement said the attack was a response to Gen. Musharraf’s handing over of captured militants to the Americans. “This operation yesterday will be followed by a series of painful strikes if you don’t stop what you are doing by complying to the wicked [President] Bush’s orders,” the group said, addressing Gen. Musharraf.

The group said it would give Pakistan time to stop the transfers. It did not say how long, but said the message was “the last warning” and that “within the coming few days, our brigades will speak with the language of blood, which is the only language you understand.”

It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the Internet claim. Lt. Khaled Islambouli was the leader of the group of soldiers who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during a military parade in Cairo in 1981.

The government said the July 25 arrest of Ghailani after a heavy gunbattle in the town of Gujrat was “a major blow” to al Qaeda and vowed to keep hunting terrorists.

Ghailani, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, is wanted in the United States for his purported role in the 1998 East African embassy attacks, and Pakistan has already said it would consider extraditing Ghailani to the United States, where he could face the death penalty.

Police have made no arrests in connection with Friday’s attack. The bomber appeared to be a Pakistani man in his early 20s, said Capt. Zubair Ahmad, a local police official.

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