ATTOCK/ISLAMABAD, July 30: Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz survived an attempt on his life by a suicide bomber on Friday minutes after he addressed a public meeting at Jaffar village in connection with his election campaign for NA-59, Attock III, officials and witnesses said.

Seven people, including the suicide bomber, were killed in the attack. Those killed in the attack have been identified as Malick Mohammad Nisar, driver of the finance minister's vehicle, Maula Bukhsh, Muhammad Hussain, Fida Muhammad, Liaquat Majeed, Kamal Hassan Shah. The suicide bomber remained unidentified till our going to press.

Mr Aziz, who is a nominee for the prime ministership, is contesting by-election from NA-59 where polling will be held on Aug 18. Islamabad police officials, however, put the number of dead at eight.

The exact number of the injured could not be ascertained till the filing of this report as figures varied from 47 to 70. Mr Aziz was later shown by the Pakistan Television talking to newsmen.

"It is sad that some lost their lives and some were wounded. I condole with their families and my resolve for the service of Pakistan and the Islamic world has further strengthened," Mr Aziz told the PTV after the attack.

According to sources, a bearded young man, approached the vehicle of Mr Aziz four minutes after he finished his speech at the election rally. The man collided with the black Mercedes of the finance minister and set off explosives, killing himself and six others.

However, an AFP report quoted the Mayor of Attock, Mr Tahir Sadiq, who was travelling with Mr Aziz in the same vehicle, as saying that a car appeared from driver's (right) side and exploded.

"I was with Mr Shaukat Aziz and we had just started moving in the car when suddenly a car appeared from driver's (right) side and exploded," the mayor told AFP at an Islamabad hospital, where he was supervising arrangements for the injured people.

"With the blessings of Allah we were not hurt at all. It is a miracle," Mr Sadiq said. According to another account, Mr Aziz was not in the vehicle when terrorists targeted his vehicle.

He is said to have changed the vehicle for leaving the venue while the suicide bomber targeted the car in which the finance minister came to the village. The government officials suspect that terrorists who carried out attacks on President Pervez Musharraf were behind this latest attack.

Among the injured were Punjab Minister for Cooperatives Col (retd) Malik Mohammad Anwar, ASP investigations of the Attock Police Ghafoor Afridi, DSP Traffic Shaukat, ASI of Special Branch, Inspector legal Khursheed.

Six of the injured were shifted to Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, Fatehjang, 15 to District Headquarters Hospital, Rawalpindi, and others to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS).

A former senior executive with Citibank, Mr Aziz needs to win a seat in the National Assembly to qualify for the premiership, adds Reuters. President Pervez Musharraf persuaded Mr Aziz to end his 30-year career with Citibank in New York to become finance minister after he took power in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

He is credited with turning around a beleaguered economy, but many ordinary Pakistanis view him with suspicion because of his long association with the United States, and some even call him an agent of America.

PRESIDENT'S CONDEMNATION: President Gen Pervez Musharraf has condemned the terrorist attack on Mr Aziz and reaffirmed the government's commitment to continue its fight against terrorism, adds APP.

In a statement issued late Friday night, the president expressed his outrage at the attack and said: "These cowardly attacks will not deter us from our fight against terror. The president also expressed sorrow and grief over the loss of lives and injuries to people.

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