KARACHI, Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto donned a black armband Friday and vowed not to be deterred in her quest to bring civilian rule to Pakistan after a suicide attack on her homecoming celebration killed as many as 136 people.
Some Pakistanis questioned whether the former prime minister had jeopardized the safety of her followers by riding in a slow-moving convoy through streets choked with supporters, particularly in light of death threats against her by Islamic militants.
But there was a general sense among Pakistanis that Bhutto was a victim of the assassination attempt and not to blame.
President Pervez Musharraf, the military leader who is both Bhutto’s rival and prospective political ally, called her Friday to express condolences. Both seen as moderates who are friendly to the West, Bhutto and Musharraf have been urged by the Bush administration to reach a power-sharing accord that would serve as the basis for a peaceful transition to civilian rule.
“The attack was not on me. The attack was on what I represent. It was an attack on democracy, and it was an attack on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan,” Bhutto said. “We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover.”
Police said an initial investigation pointed to the attack having been the work of a single assailant, who first hurled a hand grenade toward the steel-fortified vehicle carrying Bhutto and dozens of party members, then blew himself up in a thunderous blast a few feet away. The blast came close enough to singe the eyebrows of Bhutto’s aides riding atop the vehicle, though she was not injured.
At the scene of the attack, about five miles from Karachi’s international airport, investigators collected evidence including ball bearings that were used to intensify the blast’s deadly effect.