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Pakistani general escapes assassination attempt

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Ten people were killed and 10 others were wounded yesterday as a top Pakistani military general escaped an assassination attempt when gunmen ambushed his motorcade in Karachi, officials said.

The intended target of the attack, Lt. Gen. Ahsan Salim Hayat, was unhurt. Six soldiers, three police officers and a pedestrian were killed, according to the military.

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For more than a month, a wave of violence and sectarian turmoil has gripped Pakistan, from the mountainous northern city of Gilgit to the sprawling southern port city of Karachi. The surge of terrorist attacks, after a period of relative peace, appears to be a planned effort by extremists to disrupt and destabilize the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and it also has produced troubling signs that militants may be infiltrating local police forces, according to Pakistani analysts.

The attacks could be retaliation against the government's policies and an attempt by the extremists to demonstrate that they are strong enough to strike at the government, said Professor Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst based in Lahore.

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Musharraf's decision to align Pakistan with the United States in the global war against terrorism has enraged Islamic extremists in the country and militants linked to al-Qaida, and they have attacked government, diplomatic and private targets. Musharraf, who narrowly survived two assassination attempts by Islamic extremists in December, said in an interview with a private television channel that al-Qaida could be behind the recent spate of violence.

"These are either sectarian or linked with the people who want to destabilize us," Musharraf said in the interview. "Who wants to destabilize us? This is al-Qaida."

The ambush in Karachi comes a day after Nek Muhammad, a militant accused of harboring al-Qaida suspects in the rugged tribal area of northwestern Pakistan, threatened attacks in major cities of the country. The Pakistani army is mounting an effort to root out al-Qaida suspects and Pakistani sympathizers believed to be hiding in the semiautonomous tribal areas straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. A new round of fighting between the military and al-Qaida-linked militants erupted yesterday in the region bordering Afghanistan, and at least 20 militants were killed.

The assassination attempt on Hayat, the corps commander of Karachi and a trusted Musharraf colleague, occurred about 9 a.m. as his motorcade was passing near Clifton Bridge, in a neighborhood near the U.S. Consulate, police said.

Gunmen hit one of three vehicles and wounded the general's driver, according to initial news reports. A bus carrying employees of Sindh Secretariat, two police motorcycles and a passer-by were also hit. Soldiers returned fire, wounding at least one of the attackers, who escaped, according to witnesses.

A small bomb went off minutes after the gunfire, and police officials later spotted and defused another bomb in a bag found near the bridge. The gunfire and blast shattered the windows of nearby shops and apartments, and left bloodstains on the sidewalks, according to local news reports.

Law enforcement authorities said they later found an abandoned van riddled with bullets, with a bloodstained rifle, a mask and ammunition inside. The van was stolen from the Gulistan-e-Johar area of the city earlier in the day, police said.


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