Musharraf escapes second attempt on his life

At least 12 people were killed yesterday in Rawalpindi when two bombs exploded as a convoy containing Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, drove past.

Pakistani officials described the detonations, set off by suicide bombers, as an assassination attempt against the President and said it was the second within a fortnight.

Two suicide attackers driving pick-up trucks, each loaded with between 44lb and 66lb of explosive, detonated as they tried to ram into the President's motorcade as it passed two petrol stations on a main road in the city near the capital, Islamabad, they said.

The attacks damaged a window of General Musharraf's armoured limousine but he was unhurt and appeared on state television hours after the attack blaming "terrorists" for the suicide bomb attack.

The general has established himself as an ally in the United States' post-11 September 2001 offensive. He angered militants at home by withdrawing support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and, working closely with the FBI and CIA, arrested hundreds of suspected supporters of terrorist groups.

In September, Arabic television broadcast an audio tape purportedly from the deputy leader of al-Qa'ida, Ayman al-Zawahri, urging Pakistanis to overthrow him for supporting the Americans.

Hostility to him has grown recently as the result of an official investigation into the activities of leading nuclear scientists who are suspected by western intelligence agencies of selling nuclear technologies to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Those questioned include the "father" of the Pakistani atomic bomb, Dr AQ Khan.

The attack happened a day after General Musharraf agreed to step down as the head of the Pakistani armed forces by the end of next year, a move that would be a concession to his political opponents, who have long demanded an end to his control over Pakistan's security and military apparatus.

The exact death toll from yesterday's attack was unclear.

Abdur Rauf Chaudry, an interior ministry spokesman, said 14 people were killed, mostly passers-by, but including two policemen. This did not include the two bombers. He said 46 people were injured. Other reports placed the number of dead at 15, and the injured at 17.

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