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Bhutto's Return to Pakistan Marred by Bombing

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

News headlines from around the world today include condemnation of a bombing in Pakistan. It was an attack against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her supporters. Within hours after her return to Karachi, a suicide bomber attacked the Bhutto convoy as it was moving through downtown.

(Soundbite of crowd)

AMOS: More than 130 people were killed, hundreds more wounded. Bhutto herself was unhurt. It was among the deadliest attacks in Pakistan's turbulent history. The former prime minister is now calling for an inquiry.

NPR's Philip Reeves is covering the story and he joins us now from Karachi.

Good morning.

PHILIP REEVES: Good morning.

AMOS: So what is Benazir Bhutto saying about this attack?

REEVES: Well, her press conference is still going on, but she has made some very interesting remarks. One of which is that if the street lights have been on in the area where her truck was attacked, she believes that her guards would have spotted the suicide bombers. She's saying she's not blaming the government at this stage for this lapse, but they were very concerned at the time and tried in fact to get in touch with Pakistan's national security advisor to alert him that the lights were off.

And they also - she says officials sent text to the media to tell them that they were worried about the security situation. But their mobile phones weren't working in the truck because there was a jammer on at the time. So she says he guards started scanning the crowd with flood lights to see if they could see anybody out there who was planning to attack them. It's important to point out also that Benazir Bhutto said categorically, she knew there would be an attack against them yesterday.

She was so confident of this that she tried to pursued the Pakistan People's Party senior officials who were on that truck with her not to travel with her because she was worried that if they were attacked that they would be killed along with her, wiping out the high command, if you like, of the party.

AMOS: In the reports that we're reading and what you've reported so far we have a grenade and then a suicide bomber. The lights were off. Does she have any theories as to why that might have happened?

REEVES: No. She's calling for an inquiry to why the lights were off. But it's not just a grenade and a suicide bomber, there were also shots fired, she says, towards her truck. She said they were fired either immediately before the suicide bombing to try to stop the truck, although it must be said the truck was generally moving terribly slowly during its journey through Karachi. But she said it was either before the suicide bombing stopped the truck or after to try to kill people who were on it.

AMOS: And, Phil, how close did it come to killing Bhutto herself?

REEVES: It came quite close in the sense that it was not far away from her truck. She said she saw a huge orange glow. She was - she had been, against police advice, on the roof of the truck, greeting the crowd. But she'd gone inside to rest. And she said from in there, she first of all heard a bang, which was the grenade, I think, which she thought was initially a firecracker. And then they heard the larger bomb and saw a huge orange glow and bodies everywhere.

AMOS: What do you think the political fallout of this attack is going be? Is there any way to tell that now?

REEVES: Well, already the recriminations are flying. A security official - provincial security official here has accused Bhutto's people of failing to take security warning seriously enough. And that maybe damaging. Certainly, Bhutto's critics will probably allege that she shouldn't have made that journey yesterday.

On the other hand, she is criticized by many people in Pakistan, for forging an alliance with General Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler here. And she (unintelligible) that by saying that this alliance is intended to form a partnership in the battle against rising Islamist extremism in Pakistan. And, of course, being attacked in this violent way by a bomber who is widely assumed to be an Islamist extremist will fortify that case.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

NPR's Philip Reeves in Karachi where a suicide bombing has killed more than 130 people. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deborah Amos
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.