Ten die as Pakistani general escapes assassination attempt

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Attackers armed with assault rifles and bombs killed 10 people yesterday in an ambush against the motorcade of Karachi's top general.

Attackers armed with assault rifles and bombs killed 10 people yesterday in an ambush against the motorcade of Karachi's top general.

Lieutenant General Ahsan Saleem Hayat narrowly escaped, his uniform spattered with blood, but this latest terrorist assault sent ripples of fear through Pakistan's volatile commercial capital.

Gunmen hiding behind walls either side of a main road peppered a convoy carrying General Hayat, whose driver and guard were wounded along with at least eight other people, two of them women passing in a motor rickshaw. Six soldiers, three policemen and one passer-by were among the dead.

More were saved from injury by a police officer who hurled one of the bombs - left at the roadside - into a vacant lot where it exploded. Another bomb found, loaded with 5kg of explosive and rigged up to a mobile phone, was defused.

"He (Hayat) was the target and he escaped the assassination attempt," an army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said. He said the Karachi corps commander - who was seen with a bloodstained shirt collar and trousers after the attack - arrived safely at his office and was "perfectly all right." The attackers came under fire from soldiers in the convoy and fled, apparently in a Toyota van later found abandoned in other part of Karachi, pocked with bullet holes and stained with blood on the inside.

Investigators identified no suspects and no group claimed responsibility but suspicion immediately fell on Islamic extremists, angered by Pakistan's efforts in support of the US-led war on terror.

On Wednesday, Pakistani forces clashed with suspected al-Qaida fighters near the Afghan border, leaving 20 or more people dead, most of them militants - the latest salvo in a long-running struggle to free Pakistan's lawless tribal areas of terrorist suspects who have migrated from Afghanistan.

The well-orchestrated attack in Karachi, which initial investigations indicated involvement of a dozen or more people, follows at least three unsolved bombings here in the past month that triggered deadly riots by Sunni Muslims and minority Shia, throwing a volatile city of 14 million people into turmoil.

"People are losing their sense of security because even the president to corps commander are under attack, mosques and imam bargah (Shia mosques) are being bombed and no one is safe," said Abdul Razzak, 45, a vendor. Since 7 May, there have been suicide bombings on two Shia mosques that have killed more than 40 people, the drive-by shooting of a top Sunni cleric, and a twin car bombing near the US consul-general's residence - near to the scene of Thursday's assault - that killed a police officer and injured 40 other people.

Some officials have speculated the attacks are part of an al-Qa'ida plot to provoke discord in Karachi - a city riven by ethnic, religious and political divisions. Until May, it had enjoyed a year of relative calm.