- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

KARACHI, Pakistan — Masked gunmen ambushed the motorcade of Karachi’s military commander yesterday, killing at least 10 persons, including six soldiers, three policemen and a passerby, police said. The commander, Lt. Gen. Ahsan Saleem Hayat, narrowly escaped assassination.

A military spokesman did not rule out that the assault might have been linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in retaliation for Pakistani’s military operations on the Afghan border against the two groups.

The motorcade was entering the city center from the residential area of Clifton when it was ambushed on a bridge linking the two areas.

“The Karachi Corps commander escaped an assassination attempt this morning, but six soldiers and four other people were killed,” chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

“There’s no doubt that it was a terrorist attack, which group we cannot say yet.” Gen. Sultan said.

At least 20 terror suspects were killed in clashes with Pakistani troops on Wednesday in the border tribal area.

Details collected from the people who saw yesterday’s attack on Karachi’s commander indicate that it was a well-planned attack, carried out with military precision.

Witnesses told reporters that they saw five masked gunmen jumping out of a white van and firing in the air to scare the people away and then they turned their guns on military vehicles.

Witnesses then heard a loud explosion in an open space near the bridge; it created a lot of smoke. The explosion diverted the attention from the bridge, allowing the gunmen to escape.

Police said the attackers used a firecracker to scare the people away before opening fire. They also found a 10-pound bomb and said the attackers wanted to use it to blow up the bridge, but fled when the commander’s guards and policemen returned fire.

“Their first victim was an old man trying to cross the bridge on his bicycle,” said a young boy who only gave his first name, Mohammed.

“We rushed for cover. We then saw them turning their guns to the military vehicles, and the policemen guarding the bridge. Six soldiers and three policemen died here, right before us,” Mohammed said.

“It was all over in minutes,” said another witness who hid behind a car after being hit by a bullet.

“They were definitely targeting the military vehicles,” the injured witness told reporters before he was taken to a nearby hospital.

Police said the firing occurred within a peak rush hour — between 8:30 and 9 a.m. — when the bridge was full of people coming to work from the residential areas.

At 9:15 a.m., police received a call that someone had abandoned a van near a bakery in Clifton. When police searched the van, they found an AK-47 assault rifle, bullets and a mask and some blood, indicating the one of the attackers was injured in the attack.

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