Gunfire rang out as a plane carrying Pakistan’s president left an air base Friday, and police found anti-aircraft guns on a nearby roof. The apparent assassination attempt came as the army besieged extremists at the capital’s Red Mosque.
The incident heightened the sense of crisis in Pakistan, where Islamic militants have long chastened President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for allying his government with Washington. Musharraf also has lately become entangled in a political uproar over his move to oust the chief justice.
This week’s fighting around the Red Mosque in Islamabad has added to tensions. Compounding the unease, police said a suicide attacker pedaled a bicycle bomb into a military convoy in Pakistan’s restive northwest and killed four soldiers.
Musharraf was flying from Chaklala Air Base in Rawalpindi when a burst of shots was heard in a neighborhood directly under the flight path, officials and witnesses said.
The government officially played down talk of an assassination attempt, but a senior security official said the shooting was meant for Musharraf, who was not hurt and flew on to the town of Turbat to visit Pakistan’s flood-ravaged south.
“It was an unsuccessful effort by miscreants to target the president’s plane,” the security official told The Associated Press, insisting on not being quoted by name because he was not authorized to release such information to journalists.
Meanwhile the siege continues on the Red Mosque:
The situation inside and outside the Red Mosque in Islamabad remains tense amid reports that a number of fundamentalist students were shot trying to escape the government siege.
The number of dead in the three-day standoff is now said to be around two dozen. The leader of the mosque has said he prefers martyrdom to surrender.
Hundreds of people, including children, are being held as human shields inside the mosque.
Government troops have been beseiging the fundamentalists since Tuesday, cutting off food, water and electricity.
And the clashes seem to be very intense while:
Adding to a sense of foreboding over risks posed to stability by militants, a suicide bomber killed six soldiers in a northwest region where the Islamist in the mosque have allies. There was no indication the bomber was acting in support of the mosque, but it is known to have supporters in the region.
Musharraf’s image, so bad some weeks ago after the firing of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry, has boosted:
The war drums being beaten by the opposition at home were reaching a crescendo.
His battle with the country’s chief justice had taken a serious toll on his image as a military man who loathes the pettiness of everyday politics.
More importantly, perhaps, his Western allies seemed to be getting increasingly impatient with his seeming inability to deal decisively with Islamist extremists.
All this seems to have changed dramatically over the last three days, after Gen Musharraf gave his administration the green light for dismantling a radical seminary located in the heart of capital, Islamabad.
More on the assasination attempt on Mussharraf:
Security officials recovered three large guns from a nearby rooftop in a congested area of Rawalpindi, the site of two previous attempts on Mr. Musharraf’s life.
“Two antiaircraft guns were found which were not fired,” a government statement said. “However, shots were fired from a 7.62 sub-machine gun with telescope.”
The statement stopped short of confirming that the attack was an assassination attempt. “At the moment there does not appear to be any linkage between the incident and the President’s flight to Turbat,” it said. Pakistani officials said the matter was under investigation.
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