Karachi, Oct. 18: Terror exploded on the triumphant return of Benazir Bhutto to her homeland after eight years in exile and within hours of hurling a “burn-in-hell” reminder at potential attackers.
Two explosions went off near a truck carrying her during a procession through Karachi late tonight, killing several people. The former Prime Minister escaped unhurt, officials said.
Hospital sources put the death toll above 80. Geo TV said 115 people were killed.
The Pakistani ambassador in the US, Mahmud Ali Durrani, told CNN: “She is safe in her own house. She is absolutely safe. She was on the lower deck of the vehicle, to the best of my knowledge, when this happened, so she is safe and sound.”
Benazir’s lawyer Babar Awan, too, said she was safe.
Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi told Dawn News that Benazir, 54, was rushed from the area under pre-laid contingency plans. “She was evacuated very safely and is now in Bilawal House,” Farooqi said, referring to Benazir’s residence in Karachi.
An initial small explosion was followed by a huge blast — suspected to have been carried out by a suicide bomber — just feet from the front of the truck. The blast shattered windows in her vehicle and set a police escort vehicle on fire.
Eyewitnesses said they saw Benazir getting off the truck that had been transporting her through roads thronged by hundreds of thousands of people on her way to a homecoming rally near the tomb of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
Militants linked to al Qaida, angered by Benazir’s support for the US war on terrorism, had threatened to assassinate her.
Soon after touching down on Pakistani soil, Benazir had responded to the threat in her inimitable style. “Islam forbids attacks on women, and Muslims know that if they attack a woman they will burn in hell. Secondly, Islam forbids suicide bombing.”
| I counted the hours, the minutes and the seconds just to see this land, sky and grass
landing in Pakistan after eight years
Earlier, on a flight from Dubai, she had said: “I am not scared.”
Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari, who stayed back in Dubai, blamed intelligence agencies for the attack.
Eschewing a bulletproof glass cubicle installed because of fears that suicide bombers could target her, she waved serenely from her vehicle as it inched through a crush of supporters who had gravitated overnight to Pakistan’s largest city in hundreds of buses.
Benazir, who had paved her route back through negotiations with President Pervez Musharraf, declared she was fighting to help the country shake off its reputation as a hotbed of terrorism.
“That’s not the real image of Pakistan. The people that you see outside are the real image of Pakistan. They… want to be empowered so they can build a moderate, modern nation,” she said.
Weeping tears of joy, Benazir received a rapturous welcome from at least 150,000 supporters, who craned from tree branches and foot bridges to glimpse her return.