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Pakistani Prime Minister Designate Escapes Assassination Attempt - 2004-07-30


Pakistan's prime minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz, has survived an assassination attempt. The suicide bomb attack in central Punjab province left at least five people dead.

Witnesses and police say the senior Pakistani official escaped unhurt in a suicide bombing that killed his driver. Mr. Aziz, the current finance minister, was traveling in his car after an election rally when the attack took place. Mushahid Hussain is a senator and senior leader of the ruling party.

"There was a suicide bomber who tried to attack Mr. Shaukat Aziz. Obviously it was a very close call and by the grace of God he is hale and hearty," he said.

The assassination attempt took place near the town of Attock, where Mr. Aziz was campaigning for a by-election set for next month. He needs to win a seat in the lower house of parliament to qualify for the job of prime minister of Pakistan.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but authorities suspect it could be the work of Islamic militants angry at Pakistan's backing of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

"[This is the] same group of terrorists and extremists who [tried] to attack the president of Pakistan last December, who have been trying to destabilize the country and who have a certain kind of mind set, which is obviously very, very negative," he added. "And this is the single biggest threat to Pakistan's security."

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who survived two attempts on his life last year, has strongly condemned the attack on his finance minister, who is credited with turning around a troubled economy.

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and has been cracking down on Islamic militant groups that have direct or indirect ties to the al-Qaida terror network. The assassination attempt on Mr. Aziz followed the announcement early Friday that Pakistan has captured a senior al-Qaida operative wanted in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa. The man, identified as Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani from Tanzania, is on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists.

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