ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI/ATTOCK, July 31: Security agencies have started conducting raids to arrest the possible perpetrators of a terrorist attack on finance minister Shaukat Aziz while the foreign office has contacted its mission in Egypt to determine the veracity of an Al Qaeda claim, officials told Dawn.

Islambouli Brigades of Al Qaeda claiming to be linked to Al Qaeda network said on Saturday it had tried to assassinate Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz and warned of more bloody attacks against pro-US officials. The message was released on a web site.

Officials said ten people have been taken into custody for investigation including two belonging to a banned militant organization from Shahdara village near Attock.

Though the identity of the suicide bomber could not be ascertained, sources said, Mohammad Arif, owner of Arif Tailors near Jamia Masjid Attock had been taken into custody by the law- enforcement agencies on Saturday morning. He was picked up after police found a sticker on the clothes of the suicide bomber.

The Police Station Fatehjang registered a case of assassination and terrorism against the yet to be identified suicide bomber and his unknown accomplices on the statement of SHO of the police station under PPC sections 302, 324, ATA 6/7, ESA 4/5 and 120-B.

The government has formed a joint team comprising police and intelligence officials to investigate the attack. Led by DIG Rawalpindi, Iftikhar Ahmed, the joint team continued its investigations on different lines on Saturday.

An official of the foreign office said Pakistan had contacted its mission in Egypt to determine the integrity of an Al Qaeda claim that the group was behind the Saturday assassination attempt on Mr Shaukat Aziz.

The diplomatic initiative was taken after an American news agency ran a report from its Cairo bureau which said a militant group posted a web site statement in the name of Al Qaeda claiming responsibility for the said attack.

When asked, the foreign office spokesman, Masood Khan, told Dawn: "In the ongoing investigations, all possibilities would be looked into."

The statement, as quoted by the American news agency, said: "One of our blessed battalions tried to hunt a head of one of America's infidels in Pakistan while he was returning from Fatehjang, but God wanted him to survive."

The interior ministry did not rule out the possibility of Al Qaeda's involvement in the attack nor the possibility that the attack was a fallout of military operation in Wana.

"Different possibilities are being looked into," said interior ministry spokesperson, Abdul Rauf Chaudhry.

The authorities are focussing investigations on militant organizations sympathetic to Al Qaeda's ideology and opposed to the military operation in Wana.

Answering to a question, the interior ministry spokesperson said raids were being conducted by the security agencies but the identity of the suicide attacker has yet to be determined.

Senior law-enforcement officials said the attack followed a set pattern.

When asked about a pattern in the high profile attacks on important personalities including President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz, National Police Bureau Director-General Dr Shoib Suddle said the involvement of officials at the lower tiers could not be ruled out. Personnel of security agencies have been nabbed in the cases relating to the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, attack on President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Haideri Masjid, said an official.

Dr Suddle said the possibility of the suicide attack being a fallout of operation in Wana could not be ruled out. However, the DIG Police Rawalpindi Range, Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed said no security official was among the persons arrested so far.

Mr Iftikhar said the attack followed the pattern of earlier attacks and the bomb experts were investigating the type of explosive used in the attack on Mr Aziz.

A police official said an unusual delay in the movement of Mr Aziz' vehicle provided the suicide bomber an opportunity to get close to Mr Aziz' bullet proof black Mercedes.

The video showed by a private TV channel confirmed the security lapse pointed out by the federal information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Friday evening as the camera captured the suicide bomber approaching Mr Aziz's car unobstructed by the security officials. From the video, it was not clear if the suicide bomber detonated the bomb himself or signalled someone else to do the same.

The official said investigators were working to identify the dead terrorist from his bloodied head and other body pieces spread over a radius of 50 yards. The terrorist could be recognized from his face as it remained intact, said an official.

On Friday, a medical team led by Dr Irshad was dispatched to village Jaffar for chemical examination of the parts of the suicide bomber's body. Later, the law-enforcement agencies shifted the body parts to the forensic laboratory of a military hospital in Rawalpindi.

An official said a grenade was also found from the scene. He said the investigation team was also looking into the possibility that a device was planted in the vehicle and terrorist just signalled for its detonation.

Eight persons, including the driver and gunman of Mr Aziz have been confirmed dead in the attack while many injured have been admitted to hospitals in Attock, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The last three paragraphs in the lead story of our Saturday's issue were added from Reuters news agency and were not written by our staff reporters.



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