Pakistan president's plane fired on: intelligence official

by Rana Jawad

Gunmen fired on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's plane using an improvised Taliban-style anti-aircraft gun after it took off from a military airbase on Friday, intelligence officials said.

Musharraf, a key US ally who has escaped several Al-Qaeda-linked assassination attempts, was unharmed and the shots did not hit the aircraft, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

"It was an unsuccessful attempt to shoot the president's plane," one official told AFP.

Musharraf flew from the Chaklala military base in Rawalpindi, a garrison city adjoining Islamabad, to the southern provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan to visit people affected by recent floods, the military said in a statement.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad denied that the shots had targeted Musharraf's plane.

"It was not related to the president," he told AFP.

But intelligence officials dealing directly with the incident insisted Musharraf's plane was the target.

Security forces arrested a suspect and recovered the weapon and a crudely-made wooden tripod from the flat roof of a house in Rawalpindi, a security official said.

"The shots were fired from a house that was rented by a couple some days ago. They have arrested one suspect and taken into possession a machinegun which was used as an anti-aircraft weapon," one security official said.

The 14.5 mm calibre weapon was found on the tripod on the roof. It had been specially modified to increase its range, the official added.

But he said that it did not have enough range to hit the president's plane.

"It is a similar weapon to those used by the Taliban in Afghanistan," the official added.

"The man and woman who rented the house fled by the time security forces got to the scene. The suspect (a third person) was arrested near the scene," he said.

Officials had earlier said that the incident happened several minutes after Musharraf's plane had passed the house after taking off from Chaklala.

Security officials said it was "possible that the incident was against the backdrop of the episode of Lal Masjid," referring to the ongoing siege of a radical mosque in Islamabad.

Musharraf has incurred the bitter enmity of Islamic militants who oppose his ties to the United States and his support for the overthrow of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan after 9/11.

In October 2006, security forces found rockets aimed at Musharraf's official residence in Islamabad while an explosion occurred near his army house in Rawalpindi. He said the incidents had possible links to Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda was blamed for a suicide attack targeting Musharraf's motorcade on Christmas Day 2003 in Rawalpindi that left 14 people dead. He escaped unscathed.

Less than two weeks earlier he survived another assassination attempt when attackers blew up a bridge as his limousine passed, but electronic jamming equipment in the car delayed the blast.

Security forces have foiled at least two other major plots to kill Musharraf since he took power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup in 1999.