Pakistan suicide attack kills 7 near Musharraf's HQ

( Reuters ) - A suicide attack killed at least seven people, including the bomber, less than a kilometre from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's army headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, police said.

Three policemen and three passers-by were among those killed, while 11 people were wounded in the blast, city police chief Saud Aziz said. The policemen were manning a checkpoint on a road leading to the army headquarters.

"Our policeman challenged the attacker who exploded himself near their picket," Aziz said. "The police were the target."

Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said General Musharraf was safely in his office some two km away at the time of the blast.

A witness, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the location, described the scene. "I was sitting in my house when I heard the explosion. I came out and saw body parts scattered all around," he said. "I could not look, I went back into the house, it was terrible," he said.

A Reuters journalist saw body parts on the road near a perimeter wall of the residence of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Tariq Majid.

U.S. ally Musharraf has survived at least three assassination attempts -- two in December 2003, and one in July as his plane took off from Rawalpindi's airport.

Suicide and roadside bomb attacks on security forces have multiplied since commandos stormed Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, in July to crush a Taliban-style movement. More than 100 people were killed in the fighting.

The security situation in the country has continued to deteriorate, and scores of people have been killed in fighting between security forces and militants in the scenic valley of Swat in North West Frontier Province during the past few days.

The worsening security comes at a time of intense political uncertainty in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

A attack by possibly two suicide bombers killed 139 people at a procession in the southern city of Karachi to welcome former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's return from self-imposed exile on Oct 18.

Bhutto, like Musharraf, is regarded as friendly to the West and they have both vowed to stamp out militancy.

The Supreme Court is hearing challenges to the legitimacy of Musharraf's re-election by parliament and Pakistan's four provincial assemblies on Oct. 6.

A ruling is expected later this week on whether he was eligible to have stood for re-election while still army chief.

Musharraf, who came to power in a coup eight years ago, has promised to quit the army and be sworn in as a civilian leader as part of a transition to civilian-led democracy.

Parliament is due to be dissolved in mid-November, and national elections will be held by January, unless Musharraf declares a state of emergency or martial law given the uncertainty over his own position and the internal militant threat.

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