RAWALPINDI (Reuters) – A suicide attack killed at least seven people, including the bomber, less than a kilometer from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s army residence in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, police said.
The attacker blew himself up next to a police checkpoint meters away from the gates to the residence of one of Musharraf’s most senior officers, General Tariq Majid, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
A Reuters photographer saw a head hanging from the branches of a tree. Typically the upward force from a suicide bomber’s vest blows the head off.
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said General Musharraf was safely in his office some two km away at the time of the blast.
City police chief Saud Aziz said three policemen and three passers-by were among those killed, while 11 people were wounded in the blast on a road where many of Pakistan’s top brass reside.
“Our policeman challenged the attacker who exploded himself near their picket,” Aziz said. “He was on foot.”
A witness, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the location, described the scene.
“I was sitting in my house when I heard the explosion. I came out and saw body parts scattered all around,” he said. “I could not look, I went back into the house, it was terrible,” he said.
A Reuters journalist saw body parts on the road and blood splattered on a perimeter wall of General Majid’s residence.
Television footage showed a corpse slumped over a bicycle, and pools of blood on the road, as police picked up debris around the charred police post.
U.S. ally Musharraf has survived at least three assassination attempts — two in December 2003, and one in July as his plane took off from Rawalpindi’s airport.
Suicide and roadside bomb attacks on security forces have multiplied since commandos stormed Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, in July to crush a Taliban-style movement. More than 100 people were killed in the fighting.
The security situation in the country has continued to deteriorate, and scores of people have been killed in fighting between security forces and militants in the scenic valley of Swat in North West Frontier Province during the past few days.
The worsening security comes at a time of intense political uncertainty in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
A attack by possibly two suicide bombers killed 139 people at a procession in the southern city of Karachi to welcome former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s return from self-imposed exile on Oct 18.
Bhutto, like Musharraf, is regarded as friendly to the West and they have both vowed to stamp out militancy.
The Supreme Court is hearing challenges to the legitimacy of Musharraf’s re-election by parliament and Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies on October 6.
A ruling is expected later this week on whether he was eligible to have stood for re-election while still army chief.
Investors’ nervousness over the political uncertainty and mounting insecurity showed as the Karachi Stock Exchange’s benchmark index dropped over three percent by early afternoon.
Musharraf, who came to power in a coup eight years ago, has promised to quit the army and be sworn in as a civilian leader as part of a transition to civilian-led democracy.
Parliament is due to be dissolved in mid-November, and national elections will be held by January, unless Musharraf declares a state of emergency or martial law given the uncertainty over his own position and the internal militant threat.