Pakistan's PM-designate survives bomb attack

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's Prime Minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz, escaped unhurt yesterday from an assassination attempt staged hours after the official announcement of the arrest of a key suspect wanted for the 1998 US embassy bombings.

Pakistan's Prime Minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz, escaped unhurt yesterday from an assassination attempt staged hours after the official announcement of the arrest of a key suspect wanted for the 1998 US embassy bombings.

It was not clear who was behind the attack on Mr Aziz, but suspicion fell immediately on Islamic militants, angry over the government's decision to back the US-led war on terrorism. The apparent suicide bomb attack on his motorcade killed at least four people and injured two dozen others.

It came after the breakthrough in the hunt for Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national wanted for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, who was captured in Pakistan on Sunday. He is the most senior al-Qa'ida figure to be hunted down since Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 11 September attacks, was arrested in Pakistan last year.

More than 200 people died in the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar al-Salaam. Until 11 September 2001, they were al-Qa'ida's most devastating attacks against the US.

But the arrest of Mr Ghailani has left many questions unanswered. According to the Pakistani authorities, he was captured after a shoot-out in the town of Gujrat, in Punjab province. He had moved to the town about a month ago, according to the authorities.

But Gujrat is about as far from the principal battlegrounds in the hunt for al-Qa'ida as it is possible to get in Pakistan, in the peaceful Punjab heartland of the establishment. Pakistani observers commented yesterday that it would be difficult for an African to set up home in Gujrat, where foreigners are not so common, without attracting attention. It does not sound like a good hiding place for a man with a $5m bounty on his head.

The arrest also raises questions about al-Qa'ida's ability to operate in Pakistan. Punjab is generally considered to be under the tight control of the Pakistani security forces, unlike Baluchistan and the federally administered tribal areas, which have been the main scene of the hunt for al-Qa'ida suspects.

But most of the main suspects netted so far have been captured not in the remote tribal areas, but in major cities - Abu Zubayda in Faisalabad, Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Karachi, and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, at least according to official reports.

Pakistani authorities said Mr Ghailani was being held in Pakistani custody for interrogation, but that he may be handed over to the US in due course, as with all major al-Qa'ida fugitives captured in Pakistan.

Mr Aziz's motorcade was attacked as he left an election rally in the city of Attock, in northern Punjab. There are conflicting reports: some say that a grenade was thrown at the motorcade, others that a suicide bomber targeted Mr Aziz's car.

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