(Guardian) - Benazir Bhutto yesterday accused a shadowy web of figures with links to Pakistan's powerful military establishment of orchestrating Thursday's huge suicide bombing that killed 138 people and wounded 300.
Less than 24 hours after the failed assassination attempt, which has plunged Pakistan into a fresh crisis, Ms Bhutto said she had received extensive information about plots against her life - including names of ringleaders and telephone numbers - days before she flew to Karachi early on Thursday.
All of the details were included in a letter she sent to President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday. "I told him that if something should happen to me the government should know certain things," she said at a high-security press conference at her Karachi home.
"This was a dastardly and cowardly attack," she said. "We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover."
"We are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberty, but we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants."
A "brotherly country" had provided Ms Bhutto with intelligence about four suicide squads roaming Karachi, she said. They came from the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaida and "a fourth group from Karachi". She forwarded the details, including the names of three ringleaders, to Gen Musharraf on the eve of her return.
"I hoped with so much detail in their hands the government would have been able to apprehend them. But I understand their difficulties," she said.
The sense of foreboding intensified after she landed. As her fortified vehicle ploughed through a throng of supporters on Thursday night, street lights along the route were inexplicably switched off. Last-minute efforts to alert the national security adviser, Tariq Aziz, failed.
Her security guards discovered two potential assailants - one armed with a pistol, the other wearing a suicide bombing vest. But it was too late to stop another two attackers, she said. Giant explosions sent an orange fireball high into the sky and scattered charred corpses and body parts over a wide radius.
The attack was the worst political violence in Pakistan for years - and Ms Bhutto claimed more plots were in the works. "There are other attacks planned on me," she said, jabbing the air.
She described a scheme in which undercover army commandos would contrive a gunfight outside one of her homes in Karachi or Larkana, before killing her. "I'm not accusing the government. I'm accusing certain people who abuse their powers. I trust nothing will happen," she said.
Ms Bhutto has previously accused the head of Pakistan's Military Intelligence agency and retired army officers of sympathising with the extremists who tried to kill her. After the blasts, her husband, Asif Zardari, directly accused the intelligence agencies of involvement.
But Ms Bhutto was careful not to direct accusations against President Musharraf, with whom she is negotiating a possible power-sharing deal. The status of that arrangement now is unclear.
Official accounts of the attack differed. The home secretary of Sindh province, Ghulam Mohatarem, told a news conference that a single suicide bomber had first thrown a grenade to break through the security cordon around Ms Bhutto's procession before leaping towards the truck and detonating his explosives.
He said ball bearings and pellets were packed into the blast, accounting for the high death toll in the densely packed crowd. He blamed Islamist extremists for the attack but said he was unsure which group was responsible.
One of the main suspects denied any involvement. "I had nothing to do with it," Taliban commander Baitullah Masood told Reuters. Two weeks ago Masood vowed to dispatch bombers against Ms Bhutto in reaction to her pro-US policies, in particular a promise to intensify the hunt for al-Qaida in Pakistan.
A police official said an attacker's head had been found and was being analysed for clues. Ms Bhutto condemned her assailants as cowards and bad Muslims. "No Muslim can attack a woman. No Muslim can attack innocent people," she said.
Karachi was in a state of shock yesterday. Businesses and schools were closed on government orders and a trickle of traffic moved through half-deserted streets.
At the site of Thursday's attack police forensic officers collected pieces of flesh and discarded shoes. Ms Bhutto's truck was hoisted away on a crane, one side splattered with blood and pockmarked with shrapnel holes. "People are so shocked. They love Karachi," said Navaid Hashmani, an accountancy student.
The episode marked a tragic start to Ms Bhutto's hopes for reviving her political fortunes. The large turnout provided strong evidence that her support remains intact after an eight-year absence.
Long-standing corruption charges against her have been dropped but a controversial amnesty signed by Gen Musharraf remains open to legal challenge.
Explaining how she escaped the bombing, she said she was resting her swollen feet inside the truck, going over a speech she was due to give at the tomb of Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.