Friday, July 6, 2007

Pakistani dictator escapes assassination attempt (again)

(Reuters) - Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's plane was fired on as it took off on Friday from a military airfield in Rawalpindi, an intelligence officer said.

Musharraf's plane arrived safely in the southwestern town of Turbat, where the president visited flood victims. The military initially denied there had been any attack.

General Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999 and enraged Pakistani militant groups by abandoning support for the Taliban harboring al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after al Qaeda's attacks on the United States in 2001.

Militants were further angered by his pursuit of peace with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Here are some facts about previous attempts to kill the Pakistani leader:

* Musharraf narrowly escaped an attempt to kill him on December 14, 2003, when a bomb blew up a bridge in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, next to the capital Islamabad, minutes after his motorcade passed it. He described in his autobiography how the blast caused his car to fly into the air.

* On December 25, 2003, Musharraf survived a second attempt on his life within two weeks when suicide truck bombs were driven into his convoy on the same road a few days later. The president's heavily damaged car made it through the carnage to reach his home, with blood on its bodywork. Fourteen people were killed in the attack.

* Pakistan's Supreme Court in September 2006 upheld death sentences handed down to 12 men, including soldiers and civilians, convicted of taking part in the two attempts on his life. A man named Islam Siddiqui was hanged in August 2005 after being convicted of taking part in one of the attempts.

* Pakistan's military has said no senior officers were involved and that the principal planners were Abu Faraj Farj al Liby, the so-called al Qaeda "number three" and Amjad Farooqi, a Pakistani militant. Farooqi was gunned down in 2004.

* Pakistani intelligence officials said in May 2005 that they had foiled a conspiracy to kill Musharraf with a series of arrests, including the capture of Liby.

* A Pakistani court in October 2003 convicted three Islamist militants of involvement in an assassination plot against Musharraf in April 2002, handing down 10-year jail terms to each of them. The militants belonged to the al-Almi faction of Harkat-ul Mujahideen, a group also blamed for masterminding a suicide attack outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi the same year in which 12 Pakistanis died. The anti-terrorism court said the men had plotted to kill Musharraf on his way to address a public rally in Karachi.