Al Qaeda is determined to liquidate Pakistani President General Pervez Musharref. Two attempts on his life staged pell-mell in 12 days – on December 14 and December 25, both in Rawalpindi – pose two questions.
Why Musharraf? What is so important to Osama bin Laden about murdering the Pakistani ruler in the last week of 2003? Exactly two years ago, he rendered the Americans extensive assistance in the Afghanistan War to drive al Qaeda from the country. Yet the terrorist group made no attempt to kill him then or at any time since.
Where does al Qaeda get its deep intelligence on the innermost security and secrets of its targets? This question has never been satisfactorily answered since 9/11. The capability stands out starkly in both attacks on the Pakistani ruler, the second mounted one day after he promised to give up his military functions at the end of next year.
On December 14, Musharref was driving back to his residence at The Army House from a formal reception in honor of Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri after they had signed a pact to cooperate in the war against terror. The route taken by his motorcade was fixed moments before its departure and was known to no more than three to five trusted security officers. They would have relayed the route to the security forces protecting the president.
To guard against leaks to potential assassins, two or three motorcades routinely set off for the presidential residence along different routes. Two are decoys, one is real. Musharref himself picks the one that will carry him home with his personal party just before he steps into the presidential limousine.
So how did al Qaeda know which motorcade to target?
Their operatives planted two smart bombs, each packed with 275 kgs of explosives and fitted with both a remote control and a timing device to trigger it, under the very bridge crossed by the real motorcade and detonated it at the very moment it passed.
Although they had the right motorcade, the attempt failed.
Musharref himself reported in a Pakistani television-PTV interview after the failed attack that he had heard and felt the blast between 30 seconds and a minute after he crossed the bridge. His bodyguards described a 30-second pause between crossing and blast.
Minute variations in time span are significant, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources. The Pakistani president's armor-plated limousine was fitted with high-tech jamming devices that stopped the timer for about a minute and also jammed the remote control. It was enough to let Musharraf cross the bridge safely.
Our sources report that the secret services of the United States, Russia and Israel have developed these devices to protect their leaders and for the use of special forces operating under cover or agents on special assignments.
The gadget in the Pakistani president’s car was supplied by the CIA. Like others of its kind it is not perfect. It cannot detect pulses sent by remote control mechanisms or bomb timers. But it worked perfectly in the first attack on Musharref and saved his life.
In the second attempt, al Qaeda demonstrated that its intelligence penetration of the Pakistani ruler’s inner circle and SIS intelligence was deeper than thought. Despite the ongoing investigation of the first attempt and the tightening of presidential security, bin Laden’s assassins were again able to spot the motorcade carrying Musharref. They hit on a novel method of beating the jamming gear in his car. Instead of bombs and roadside devices, they used two pickup trucks packed with explosives and driven by two suicide killers with bomb-belts strapped to their bodies. To make absolutely sure of getting their victim, they set up a collision with the motorcade outside a gas station. They planned to throw up a fireball that would consume the vehicles.
However, this time, Musharref, realizing that al Qaeda was gunning for him and would try again, was prepared. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that in addition to the American jamming equipment, the president provided himself with a second gadget designed in Israel especially to detonate explosive belts carried by suicidal terrorists. This gadget is still being developed for the American army in Iraq. Instead of stopping a timer to gain one minute for escape, this system detonates the bomb belt on the terrorist’s body. It is being prepared to meet a new threat concocted by the Lebanese Hizballah of explosives that are not activated by the bomber but pre-timed to blow up even after he is caught.
As to why al Qaeda has targeted Musharref at this time, DEBKA–Net-Weekly‘s sources reveal that Osama bin Laden has selected for assassination three world leaders who are rated pro-American or whose death will deal a serious setback to US world position. They are King Muhammed VI of Morocco, the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and President Musharref of Pakistan.