By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS
IANS Pakistan correspondent Muhammed Najeeb was covering the welcome march of Benazir Bhutto in Karachi when two bombs exploded. Here is his account of what happened.
Karachi : The first bomb blast was so muted that many Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) activists kept dancing to the beat of drums to celebrate the arrival of their leader Benazir Bhutto. Then came a second, deafening roar – and human body parts flew as high as 40 feet. Hours of celebrations suddenly turned into Pakistan’s worst bloodbath.
I was somewhat away from where the explosions took place. I was preparing to take a vantage point at Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum, where Bhutto, who had arrived hours earlier from Dubai after eight years of exile, was to address a rally of supporters who had taken to the streets in hundreds of thousands.
After the first blast, someone screamed on a loudhailer that Bhutto had been hurt. But the voice did not travel far. It was just after midnight Thursday, and many PPP workers were busy giving final touches at the rally ground.
And then came a full-throated announcement that caused a deathly silence.
A PPP woman leader was screaming: “Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has been injured in bomb blast… But be calm, she is alive… I say she is alive…!”
Some people turned pale – thinking Bhutto, 54, two times prime minister of Pakistan, was probably dead.
“No, no! She has to live! She will live…!” a woman standing close to me cried out, breaking the silence. “She cannot die! She has to live!”
The woman wouldn’t stop.
Crowds all around suddenly broken into slogans of “Long live Bhutto! Long live Bhutto!”
Several people began to run towards the blasts site.
Cameramen and reporters at the mausoleum quickly grabbed their electronic gadgets and sprinted with the crowds.
“I knew this would happen, these … ,” someone abused the government. “People cannot face the democratic leader,” shouted a young boy, his face painted in PPP colours of green, red and black.
The scenes at the explosion site were ghastly. I was numbed.
There was blood around the armour-plated truck in which Bhutto was riding. A police van and some other vehicles were burning. We saw several bodies. Many of the injured were being taken away in ambulances.
A TV cameraman who witnessed the tragedy from close quarters said the first bomb exploded near the truck. Many thought a tyre had burst.
Within seconds, another huge explosion followed — and the air was filled with pathetic cries for help.
Many victims were rolling on the street in pain. Some tried to sit up, and again collapsed.
The cameramen said that human body parts flew as high as 40 feet, high above the trees.
A dazed Bhutto was quickly whisked away by security people in an ambulance travelling with her truck.
Policemen quickly became the target of furious PPP supporters. They were attacked with bottles and stones.
Some one, probably from the security, fired shots in the air. That could have made matters worse. Fortunately, a senior official shouted on the public address system to stop the firing.
After that there was no more gunfire.
But fire engines could not reach the spot immediately because of the huge crowds. Emotions were running high. People were shouting slogans. Everyone was worried about Bhutto.
A man, clearly a PPP supporter, claimed: “Hundreds have been killed!”
The bulletproof truck especially designed to carry Bhutto and 60 people on its top and with a sitting area inside was badly damaged with its glasses broken. Its outer body on the right side gave the look as if someone has torn it apart.
Another TV cameraman was in tears. His assistant lay dead. “I sent him there,” he wailed, pointing towards the scene and clearly feeling guilty.
Amid the confusion, PPP workers were continuously asked to remain calm through a public address system.
Then came another announcement over the loudhailer: “Mohtarma is safe and unhurt by the grace of Allah. She has been shifted to Bilawal House (her residence).”
It was the only positive moment of the terrible disaster.