Source AP ©

Suicide bomber kill 7 near Musharraf's office in Pakistan

Pakistani authorities have reconstructed the severed head of the suicide bomber who killed seven people near President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's office, as a probe was opened to determine who was behind the blast, police said Wednesday.

The country's top court, meanwhile, set a preliminary hearing for Thursday on the deadly failed attempt on ex-premier Benazir Bhutto's life earlier this month, said Supreme Court spokesman Arshad Munir.

Pakistan - a key ally of the United States in its war on terror - has been rocked by a string of suicide attacks, mostly blamed on Islamic extremists, since Musharraf cracked down on militants near the Afghan border in July.

The most recent attack came Tuesday, when three police officers and four civilians were killed when a suicide bomber on foot blew himself up less than 500 meters (yards) from Musharraf's office, deepening instability and insecurity ahead of crucial elections.

Surgeons have "reconstructed" the severed head of the attacker, said Saud Aziz, police chief of Rawalpindi, where the attack took place.

"We are trying to determine the identity of the attacker. We will release his sketch soon," Aziz said.

Officials say the attacker detonated his explosives when police stopped him at a checkpoint near Musharraf's heavily guarded office in Rawalpindi, a garrison city just south of the capital, Islamabad.

Musharraf was safely inside Army House - but the blast was clearly heard there, said presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi. No one has claimed responsibility.

The attack came two weeks after the Oct. 18 suicide bombing of Bhutto's homecoming parade, which killed more than 140 people in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi.

The former premier says the threats to her life would not derail her campaigning for January parliamentary elections.

Bhutto said Tuesday that she would visit Rawalpindi on Nov. 9, but that she would no longer hold processions like the one attacked two weeks ago.

The government acknowledges the border area near Afghanistan has become a haven for Taliban militants. The U.S. worries al-Qaida might be using it to plot new attacks.

Last week, authorities sent troops to tackle pro-Taliban militants in the northwestern district of Swat. Officials say four days of violence there left about 100 people dead.

Some 5,000 tribesmen rallied Tuesday to demand a halt to military operations against militants in the northwest.

Musharraf is widely expected to join Bhutto in a U.S.-friendly alliance after January parliamentary elections. However, their emerging coalition must survive a number of legal challenges that are being considered by the Supreme Court.