KARACHI, Pakistan — A suicide bombing in a crowd welcoming former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto killed at least 126 people Thursday night, shattering her celebratory procession through Pakistan’s biggest city after eight years in exile. Two explosions went off near a truck carrying Bhutto, but police and officials of her party said she was not injured and was hurried to her house. An Associated Press photo showed a dazed-looking Bhutto being helped away.
Officials at six hospitals in Karachi reported 126 dead and 248 wounded. It was believed to be the deadliest bomb attack in Pakistan’s history. Bhutto flew home to lead her Pakistan People’s Party in January parliamentary elections, drawing cheers from supporters massed in a sea of the party’s red, green and black flags. The police chief said 150,000 were in the streets, while other onlookers estimated twice that.
The throngs reflected Bhutto’s enduring political clout, but she has made enemies of Islamic militants by taking a pro-U.S. line and negotiating a possible political alliance with Pakistan’s military ruler, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. An estimated 20,000 security officers had been deployed to protect Bhutto and her cavalcade of motorized rickshaws, colorful buses, cars and motorcycles.
Authorities had urged Bhutto to use a helicopter to reduce the risk of attack amid threats from extremists sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaida, but she brushed off the concerns. “I am not scared. I am thinking of my mission,” she had told reporters on the plane from Dubai. “This is a movement for democracy because we are under threat from extremists and militants.” Last month, Bhutto told CNN she realized she was a target. Islamic militants, she said, “don’t believe in women governing nations, so they will try to plot against me, but these are risks that must be taken. I’m prepared to take them.” MORE
[photo via NEW YORK TIMES/GETTY IMAGES]