Pakistani Islamist survives second assassination attempt

A hard-line Islamist leader known as an outspoken opponent of the United States narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber Thursday in northwest Pakistan, the second such attack in two days.

At least 12 people were killed and 21 injured in the suicide bombing in the city of Charsadda, but Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl), escaped unhurt. The assailant struck a police van providing security for Rehman's convoy, authorities said. Rehman was on his way to address a gathering of his followers.

It was unclear whether the bomber was on foot or on a motorcycle.

"I am safe," the gray-bearded Rehman told a Pakistani television channel. He said he had no idea who was behind the attempts on his life.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle rode up to a group waiting to welcome Rehman in the northwestern city of Swabi, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 20. The explosion occurred just minutes before Rehman arrived.

Rehman is one of the staunchest critics of Pakistan's alliance with the United States and a vocal proponent of the Afghan Taliban. He often accuses Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's government of having allowed the country to become subservient to Washington. Pakistani newspapers quoted him Thursday as labeling the United States a "terrorist state" and calling anyone who backed the Americans a terrorist.

Though attacks on groups and figures sympathetic to the Taliban movement are unusual, they are not unprecedented.

A year ago, a suicide bombing in the city of Peshawar killed more than 20 people at a rally held by the Jamaat-i-Islami, another hard-line Islamist party that opposes the U.S.-led war against Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

This year, the Pakistani Taliban released a video showing the execution of Sultan Amir Tarar, a former Pakistani intelligence agent regarded as an architect of the Taliban's rise in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Tarar, known in Pakistan as Col. Imam, had been held hostage for 10 months by militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Leaders of Rehman's party said they were at a loss to explain the attacks this week.

"We don't know whether they are trying to terrify the maulana or kill him," said Abdul Jalil, the party's provincial information secretary.

Times staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and special correspondent Ali from Peshawar.

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