A suicide bomber killed 12 people at a rally for Pakistan’s suspended chief justice today, police said, ramping up tension in a country already reeling from a burst of violence by Islamic extremists.
The attack came before a verdict in a legal battle that has pitched judge Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry against President General Pervez Musharraf and which could determine the military ruler's political future.
Chaudhry was heading towards the district court in the capital, Islamabad, to address a gathering of lawyers who have led mass protests against his suspension when the attacker struck, officials said.
Khalid Pervez, a senior municipal official, said at least 12 people died and another 40 were wounded.
Three security officials, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was a suicide attack.
Police said the blast happened near a stage set up for Chaudhry, and that hundreds of people were present. Chaudhry was still several miles away at the time.
Mohammed Hafiz, an official at a nearby hospital, said it had admitted at least 10 bodies, and ambulances were bringing more injured.
“We have declared an emergency,” he said.
There was no immediate indication of who carried out the attack or that it was linked to a spate of bombings and suicide attacks in the north west blamed on Islamic extremists.
More than 100 people have died in the violence that followed Musharraf’s decision to storm Islamabad’s Red Mosque and deploy troops in militant strongholds near the Afghan border.
Leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaida have called for revenge attacks, including suicide attacks, on security forces.
However, there had been no indication that they would target Chaudhry, whose refusal to resign in the face of charges of misconduct has catalysed opposition to Musharraf’s seven-year rule.
The Supreme Court, which has been hearing Chaudhry’s appeal against his March 9 suspension, was expected to rule in his case as early as Friday.