Sophisticated attack targeted Bhutto in Pakistan

The aftermath of the attack on Bhutto’s convoy. Click to view.

As the toll from yesterday’s ambush on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto convoy rises to 132 killed and upwards of 500 wounded, the details of the strike emerge. The attack was a sophisticated, coordinated strike carried out by professional terrorists. Conflicting reports exist, but it is clear at least one suicide bomber, and possibly two, conducted the attack, possibly in conjunction with snipers, a car bomb, and a person throwing a hand grenade.

The target of the attacks was the large truck carrying Bhutto and her senior advisors. Bhutto’s convoy was surrounded by a massive cordon of police and party volunteers. The security arrangement had two rings: an outer cordon of 20,000 police and inner cordon of 5,000 volunteer’s from Bhutto’s political party as well as police.

At least one suicide bomber penetrated the outer cordon and hit the inner ring of security. The suicide bomb came close to hitting Bhutto’s truck. “The blasts hit two police vehicles which were escorting the truck carrying Ms Bhutto. The target was the truck,” senior Karachi police official Azhar Farooqui told Reuters. Witnesses said two dozen police vehicles “were completely shattered.” About 15 to 20 kilograms of explosives were used in the attack.

“There were two blasts, one on the left side and one on the right side of the procession,” Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said. “It appears these were suicide attacks, but it is not confirmed.” Police later confirmed recovering the severed head, hands and feet of one suicide bomber, along with the torso.

Conflicting reports on the origin of the second blast exist, but there is a strong possibility that all of the modes of attack occurred, based on the sheer scale of the devastation. Karachi’s chief of police said a grenade was hurled at the truck. “First a grenade was thrown at the crowd and then the suicide bomber blew himself up,” he said. Other witnesses said “the second blast originated from a golden-coloured Pajero parked on the road.”

Bhutto herself said there were two suicide bombers involved in the attacks, while there were four suicide squads sent to kill her. “There was one suicide squad from the Taliban elements, one suicide squad from al Qaeda, one suicide squad from Pakistani Taliban and a fourth – a group – I believe from Karachi,” she said. Bhutto also stated street lamps went dark as the procession moved through Karachi at midnight.

The bombings were also coordinated with sniper fire. “After the explosions, Bhutto’s supporters reported hearing gunshots, and there were three indentations in the glass screen of her truck that appeared to have been caused by bullets,” The New York Times reported.

It is clear this was a sophisticated, professional strike planned in advance. “It is a pattern that would suggest the attack was planned meticulously and conducted expertly, certainly not by a novice,” Karachi’s chief of police said.

The assassination attempt against Bhutto bear the hallmark of the past al Qaeda attempts to assassinate President Musharraf. Al Qaeda and the Taliban, who operate hand in hand in Pakistan, are the immediate suspects. In early October, South Waziristan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who has strong ties to al Qaeda, threatened to kill Bhutto upon her return. “My men will welcome Bhutto on her return,” Baitullah told a Senator. He later denied being involved in yesterday’s assassination attempt. “I had nothing to do with it,” he told Reuter.

Haji Omar, another Taliban commander from Waziristan, threatened Bhutto’s life. “She has an agreement with America. We will carry out attacks on Benazir Bhutto as we did on General Pervez Musharraf,” Omar told Reuters as Bhutto traveled to Pakistan.

The Taliban recently fought the Pakistani military to a standstill in North Waziristan and has over 300 Pakistani soldiers in captivity after ambushing a convoy traveling through the tribal regions. The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied Pakistani terror groups are operating 29 terror camps in North and South Waziristan alone, and together they control significant regions in the tribal areas, including Tank, Bajaur, Swat, and Mohmand.

Al Jazeera video report from Karachi on the Bhutto attack.

Information in this report compiled from the following sources:

Daily Times: 132 killed in suicide attacks

Daily Times: BB wants IB chief Ijaz Shah sacked

The New York Times: Bomb Attack Kills Scores in Pakistan as Bhutto Returns

Straits Times: Pakistan bombing ‘planned meticulously’: police chief

Reuters: Don’t blame me, says militant who threatened Bhutto

Reuters: SNAPSHOT – Latest developments in Pakistan blasts

The Associated Press: Bhutto says 2 suicide attackers struck

The Long War Journal: Bombings in Karachi target former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto

The Long War Journal: Concern over nukes as al Qaeda camps empty

The Long War Journal: Taliban parade captured Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan

The Long War Journal: Consolidating Talibanistan

The Long War Journal: The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan: An Online History

Please support The Long War Journal by donating to Public Multimedia Inc., our nonprofit media organization and publisher of The Long War Journal. All donations are 100 percent tax-deductible, and all donations will be used to support The Long War Journal.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • thanos says:

    Great upate and Analysis Bill, I’m stuck at work and can’t dig in as well as I would like right now. Keep up the great work.

  • Neo says:

    Here is a link to Bhutto’s statement blaming Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Something that is being noted is that the streetlights and telephones in the area had been turned off. I’m not sure if that refers to land line phones or cell phones were turned off in the area.
    “Bhutto’s procession crept toward the center of Karachi for 10 hours with supporters thronging her armored truck when a small explosion erupted near the front of the vehicle. That was quickly followed by a larger blast, destroying two police vans escorting the procession. Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the vehicles on the left side of Bhutto’s truck suffered the brunt of the blast, one of the deadliest in Pakistan’s history.
    Bhutto did not blame the government, but said it was suspicious that streetlights failed after sunset Thursday when her convoy was inching its way through the streets of Karachi. She said attempts to reach the national security adviser to have the lights restored were unsuccessful – phone lines were also apparently down.
    “I’m not accusing the government but certain individuals who abuse their positions and powers,” she said. “We were scanning the crowd with the floodlights, but it was difficult to scan the crowds because there was so much darkness.””

  • Winger says:

    Bhutto herself said there were two suicide bombers involved in the attacks, while there were four suicide squads sent to kill her. “There was one suicide squad from the Taliban elements, one suicide squad from al Qaeda, one suicide squad from Pakistani Taliban and a fourth – a group – I believe from Karachi,”
    Yikes , and the Government may be involved. Nice knowing ya.
    South Waziristan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who has strong ties to al Qaeda, threatened to kill Bhutto upon her return. “My men will welcome Bhutto on her return,” Baitullah told a Senator. He later denied being involved in yesterday’s assassination attempt. “I had nothing to do with it,” he told Reuter.
    Yeh right. You threaten and something happens. The threat should be enough to arrest you. What is the Pak governemtn doing about it. Nada.
    Neo, I thought the same thing about the cell phones and the sign in English that said Long Live. Streetlights going out are very suspicious and may provide some clues.
    Bill, did no one claim responsibility? I didn’t see anything in your posts but I thought I heard somewhere that Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility.

  • Freedom Now says:

    I just dont understand all the high praise these terrorists get. Its important not to underestimate our enemies, but what danger is there of that in our society? Terrorists are widely praised for their so called “skills”.
    Lets face it. This was an attack on mostly unarmed civilians.
    While there was a large contingent of security around Bhutto, the procession was very vulnerable because it slowly winded through packed crowds of adoring civilians.
    I can only hope that the Anbar-effect results from this affair.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Freedom NOw,
    If you’re looking for the cheering squad, you’re in the wrong place.
    It isn’t high praise. They came close to killing Bhutto less than 24 hours after she arrived in country with a multipronged attack, which included suicide, car, handgrenade and sniper attacks. We need to recognize both their strengths AND their weaknesses if we want to fight effectively. The world ignored the rise of the Taliban and AQ in the NWFP for years, and now we are where we are today. We need to recognize they are well trained and able to carry out complex attacks.

  • Freedom Now says:

    It’s just that terrorists are over-hyped as always having sophisticated training and tactics. This is a knee-jerk reaction that we have all been conditioned to accept without question. Actually, our society looks down harshly on those who question the efficiency of terrorist military operations. There is no danger of underestimating the military prowess of our enemies. The danger is in avoiding and denying the challenge that these terrorists present to all civilized people.
    How much training does it take to have a guy drive a car bomb into a crowd and push a button?
    I know that there was coordination between more than one bomber (maybe) and shooters (they could be well trained snipers or ‘spray and pray’ Jihadis, we dont know and the media tends to overexaggerate). However, the scene was a crush of admiring supporters mobbing their returning hero. It isn’t too difficult to take advantage of that.
    This is not to deny that the Jihadist support mechanism is sophisticated. Their coordination of propaganda, recruitment and financing is remarkable. However, anything that they have earned in the field was through their brutality and the fanaticism of their suicidal bravery – not through superior tactics and training. They have made numerous mistakes, but are rarely (if at all) credited with any inefficiency. Making war on civilians and infrastructure is easy.
    We all know that this perception of an irresistible military prowess is the objective of every brutal insurgency and it is the reason for their uncompromising brutality. Our society plays into our enemy’s hands with our own false view of objectiveness. We tend to view our enemies objectively while viewing ourselves in a severely critical light.
    I am merely in favor of evening the playing field, that’s all 

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Nowhere did I say they were superior in training, tactics, techniques or procedure. I think you’ll be more than hard pressed to find a statement by me to that effect. I’m acknowledging their training, tactics, techniques and procedure are good. Good enough to come close to killing Bhutto despite a security cordon of 20,000 plus 5,000, and good enough to fight the Pakistani Army to a standstill in the NWFP. In Pakistan, where we are not, that is as good as they need to be.

  • Winger says:

    Yeah, but don’t the sychophants in the NWFP cheer them everytime they kill 100+ innocent unarmed people. I bet they have a parade and kill a goat.

  • Freedom Now says:

    Its not like the Pakistani army is known for its prowess. Al Qaeda is just riding the backs of the northern tribes. Pakistan has never fully controlled that region anyways. Even the British know something about the ferociousness of these people.
    Al Qaeda’s strength is not in its military tactics. It is their suicidal bravery and their brutality.
    I will say that their intelligence networks in Pakistan might show some promise. At the very least they succeeded in infiltrating low-level Pakistani security forces and maybe government officials to conduct a number of spectacular assassination attempts on Musharraf as well as Bhutto. However, they have failed in the execution of all these attempts. Sure they came close, but it’s not the failure that really makes the point.
    Without primitive suicide attacks by terrorists disguised as civilians in a huge adoring crowd that was impossible to control, there would have been little chance of Al Qaeda coming this close to Bhutto. They give a guy a car tell him to push the button. Its not much more sophisticated than that.
    Lets see them manage reconstruction contracts, while conducting offensive campaigns, while maintaining a complex supply chain, while maintaining security for supply columns in hostile territory, while juggling diplomacy with leaders from a different culture, while attending to the demands of a foreign civilian population, while administrating a bureaucratic military force. That would be sophisticated.
    Lets give them credit where credit is due. They are brave and determined, their propaganda is superb, but their military tactics are more brutal than sophisticated.
    Sorry that’s just my view of this article, its not meant to be contrarian or mean. It hurts me to see such a strong reaction from somebody whose work I greatly admire.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    If the Taliban and AQ are good enough to beat a nations’ army, then, as I said, they are good enough. I am not, or have not, comparing their TTPs to the US military. Part of the point is that the Taliban and AQ now have the time and space to train their military arm. It may not be a world class military, but it is certainly SE-Asia class military. The ANA would be hard pressed to stand up to them, and the Pak army has been stymied.
    People in the military and intelligence I speak to who monitor the situation closely in Pakistan and Afghanistan would disagree about your assessment of their tactical abilities or lack thereof. We should not use the frequent slaughter of Taliban forces in Afghan as a model. I am told the Taliban and al Qaeda have thrown cannon fodder at this theater while reserving their better forces for use in the NWFP.
    There is a reason I don’t wade into the comments often, and this is the perfect example. You are taking a disagreement far too personally. This is quite common, unfortunately. I’ll end this discussion now.


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