JUI chief escapes 2nd assassination bid, 12 killed

Islamabad: Pakistan`s hardline JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Thursday had a narrow escape for the second day in a row when a suicide bomber targeted his motorcade in the country`s restive northwest, killing at least 12 people and injuring over 30 others.

The bomber struck just after the motorcade of 57-year-old Rehman, a member of the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament, entered Charsadda town in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where he was to address a gathering at Darul Uloom Islamia seminary.

The powerful blast occurred near a government office and a private school, witnesses said.

Twelve people, including two members of Rehman`s security detail and a woman, were killed while over 30 others, including policemen and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) workers, were injured, officials said.

"I am fine. There was a powerful explosion near my car and the windscreen was shattered. Another car in my motorcade was damaged," Rehman told the media.

He said he had seen several policemen who were injured by the blast.

Rehman cancelled his meeting in Charsadda after the blast.

A car in which senior JUI leaders Akram Khan Durrani and Azam Swati were travelling too was damaged in the attack, though they escaped unhurt.

The seriously injured persons were taken to a hospital in Peshawar.

Footage on television showed several cars that were damaged by the blast.

The walls of a nearby mosque were pitted by ball bearings that were packed into the bomber`s explosive vest.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Rehman escaped an attempt on his life yesterday as well when a suicide attacker tried to target his motorcade at Swabi in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. That attack killed 10 people, including two policemen.

The attacks have surprised political observers as the JUI is perceived as being pro-Taliban.

Rehman has repeatedly called on the federal government to halt military operations against the militants.

Rehman told the media today that he had not received any threats. He refused to say who could be behind the two attempts on his life.

Earlier this month, Rehman had said in the National Assembly that a perceived misuse of the blasphemy law could be discussed, a statement which was welcomed by the Presidency and minorities and civil society representatives.

He had earlier led rallies that had forced the government to abandon possible changes in the country`s blasphemy law.

Critics of Pakistan`s blasphemy law have complained that it is often misused for settling personal scores or to persecute the country`s minority communities.

Two top leaders of the ruling PPP ? Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian — were assassinated this year for challenging the blasphemy law.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik today condemned the attack on the JUI chief and formed a joint investigation team to conduct an inquiry.

The team, which includes officials of the police, Federal Investigation Agency and Intelligence Bureau, will submit its report in a week.