Thu, Nov 01, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Pakistani police suspect al-Qaeda link in suicide blast

AFP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistani police said yesterday that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and the Taliban were likely linked to a suicide attack near President Pervez Musharraf's army office that killed seven people.

Tuesday's blast in the garrison town of Rawalpindi may also be a reaction to an ongoing government crackdown on militants in northwest Pakistan and a raid on the hardline Red Mosque in Islamabad in July, the city police chief said.

"Taliban and al-Qaeda elements are there. Most probably they could be instrumental in this attack," Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz said.

Aziz said police had found the disfigured head of the bomber, who is believed to be about 23 years old and who blew himself up when police stopped him at a checkpost guarding a high security area.

"A plastic surgeon has reconstructed the face of the bomber. Police also found three of his fingers and have sent them to the national registration office for identification," he said.

Police were also carrying out DNA tests on the attacker's remains.

The attack raised further fears for the safety of Musharraf, a key US ally in the "war on terror" who has survived at least three assassination attempts by Islamists who detest his ties to Washington.

The police chief said investigators suspected there could be a link between Tuesday's explosion and the the army's storming of the pro-Taliban Red Mosque, in which scores of people were killed.

The blast happened directly outside the house of a senior general who was reportedly one of the key planners of the operation against militants who had infiltrated the Red Mosque.

Aziz said there could also be connections to operations against a hardline Taliban-style cleric in northwestern Swat Valley and clashes with rebels in Pakistan's troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan has fought bloody battles in the tribal belt with insurgents who are closely allied to Afghanistan's extremist Taliban militia and who have been blamed for several suicide blasts this year.

"This could have links with the Red Mosque, the situation in Swat and the tribal areas. We have strong suspicions on all three factors," Aziz said.

"We have launched a search of Afghan-dominated areas [in Rawalpindi and nearby Islamabad] and teams are monitoring their neighborhoods," he said.

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