Al-Qa'ida faction claims attempted assassination of Pakistani leader

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The Independent Online

A group claiming to be linked to al-Qa'ida announced yesterday that it was responsible for Friday's failed assassination attempt against Pakistan's Prime Minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz. The suicide bombing came just hours after Pakistan announced that it had arrested Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani, the main suspect in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania - the most senior al-Qa'ida fugitive to be caught in over a year.

A group claiming to be linked to al-Qa'ida announced yesterday that it was responsible for Friday's failed assassination attempt against Pakistan's Prime Minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz. The suicide bombing came just hours after Pakistan announced that it had arrested Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani, the main suspect in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania - the most senior al-Qa'ida fugitive to be caught in over a year.

Although Mr Aziz escaped unharmed, at least nine people were killed in the suicide bombing. Pakistani television yesterday showed chilling footage of the bombing as Mr Aziz was on his way home from an election rally.

In the footage, a man can be seen running towards Mr Aziz's car and raising one arm. There is an explosion from around his body, sending a shower of sparks and a cloud of thick grey smoke into the air. After that come pictures of the panic. The attack came just 35 miles outside Islamabad, in what is considered the most heavily guarded part of Pakistan. Mr Aziz's political colleagues yesterday said he had described to them how a bearded man had run up against the driver's door of the car and blown himself up.

Yesterday's claim of responsibility was issued in the name of the Islambouli Brigades of al-Qa'ida. No one has heard of the faction - but operating under various names is an al-Qa'ida tactic.

In a statement on an Islamic website, the group said: "One of our blessed battalions tried to hunt a head of one of America's infidels in Pakistan ... but God wanted him to survive ... Yesterday's attack will be followed by more painful blows if you do not stop blindly obeying the orders of that lowlife Bush. If you don't stop, the mujahideen will ... wage a bloody war in Pakistan". The Pakistani authorities have not commented on the claim, but the Information Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, had already said al-Qa'ida was suspected of being behind the attack.

The attempted assassination comes as Pakistan is considering sending troops to Iraq. President Pervez Musharraf is coming under intense pressure from the US, which would receive a boost from the presence of soldiers from a Muslim nation, but there is huge opposition among Pakistanis.

Although Mr Ghailani's capture was announced on Friday, he was arrested last Sunday, which would have given those behind the suicide bombing time to plan their response. President Musharraf has accused al-Qa'ida of being behind two of the three recent attempts on his own life.

Nek Mohammed, a Pakistani Pashtun tribal leader accused of sheltering al-Qa'ida fugitives, threatened that his followers would mount attacks inside Pakistan's cities shortly before he was killed in a rocket attack last month.

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