Pakistan suicide attack kills seven
RAWALPINDI (Reuters) - A suicide attack killed at least seven people, including the bomber, on Tuesday less than a kilometre from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's army residence in Rawalpindi, police said.
The attacker blew himself up next to a police checkpoint just metres from the gates to the residence of one of Musharraf's most senior officers, General Tariq Majid, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Recently promoted, Majid had not yet moved in.
A Reuters photographer saw a head hanging from the branches of a tree. Typically the upward force from a suicide bomber's explosive vest blows the head off.
General Musharraf was safely in his office some 2 km (one mile) away at the time of the blast, officials said.
City police chief Saud Aziz said three policemen and three passers-by were among those killed, while 11 people were wounded in the blast on a road where many of Pakistan's top brass reside.
"Our policeman challenged the attacker who exploded himself near their picket," Aziz said. "He was on foot."
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said the bomber was aged between 19 and 23, with long hair and a fair complexion.
A witness, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the location, described the scene.
"I was sitting in my house when I heard the explosion. I came out and saw body parts scattered all around," he said. "I could not look, I went back into the house, it was terrible."
A Reuters journalist saw body parts on the road and blood splattered on a perimeter wall of General Majid's residence.
Television footage showed a corpse slumped over a bicycle, and pools of blood on the road, as police picked up debris around the charred police post, before the area was hosed down.
Flying splinters struck a passenger mini-bus passing on the other side of the two-way road, causing it to crash into a wall, injuring a woman and two children, police said.
U.S. ally Musharraf is known to have survived at least three assassination attempts, two in December 2003, and one last July as his plane took off from Rawalpindi's airport.
Suicide and roadside bomb attacks on security forces have multiplied since commandos stormed the Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, in July to crush a Taliban-style movement. More than 100 people were killed in the fighting.
The security situation in the country has continued to deteriorate, with scores of people killed in the past few days alone in fighting between security forces and militants in the scenic valley of Swat in North West Frontier Province.
Followers of a rebel cleric in Swat handed over bodies of eight paramilitaries on Tuesday, during a two-day lull in fighting.
The worsening security comes at a time of intense political uncertainty in Pakistan.
An attack by possibly two suicide bombers killed 139 people at a procession in the southern city of Karachi on October 18 to welcome home former prime minister Benazir Bhutto from self-imposed exile.
Bhutto, like Musharraf, is regarded as friendly to the West and they have both vowed to stamp out militancy.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing challenges to the legitimacy of Musharraf's October 6 re-election by parliament and the nation's four provincial assemblies.
A ruling is expected later this week on whether he had been eligible to stand for re-election while still army chief.
Investors' nervousness over the political uncertainty and mounting insecurity showed as the Karachi Stock Exchange's benchmark index dropped more than 3 percent by early afternoon.
Musharraf, who seized power in a coup eight years ago, has promised to quit the army and be sworn in as a civilian leader as part of a transition to civilian-led democracy.
Parliament is due to be dissolved in mid-November, with national elections to be held by January, unless Musharraf declares an emergency or martial law given the uncertainty over his own position and the internal militant threat.
A minister and senior police official told Reuters prior to the blast that three suicide teams were believed to have entered Islamabad and neighbouring Rawalpindi.
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider, Zeeshan Haider and Simon Gardner and Sahar Ahmed)
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