GARHI KHUDA BAKSH, Pakistan (AP) – Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto left her Karachi residence early today to make her first trip outside the city since a bloody assassination attempt that killed 143 people.

Bhutto’s convoy was escorted by a half-dozen police vehicles as she sped toward the city’s airport. Access roads to her route had been blocked, and police and paramilitary rangers were deployed along the highway.

She is due to travel to her ancestral home near the southern city of Larkana, where supporters were readying a hero’s welcome for the opposition leader. It is her first visit since she ended her eight-year exile more than a week ago.

Bhutto is expected to pay respects at the tomb of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – Pakistan’s first popularly elected leader, who was hanged three decades ago.

“It’s with a mixture of emotion that I go back because so much has happened,” she told reporters in the terminal before boarding the plane. “All of Pakistan is my constituency, but the whole story starts from Larkana.”

Villagers had been expecting Bhutto days ago but the deadly suicide bombing on Oct. 18 shattered her plans. Since the bombings at a procession to greet her, she has spent most of her hunkered down behind reinforced doors in her Karachi residence.

But Bhutto said Friday she refused to be intimidated. She said she would travel on to the cities of Lahore and Islamabad, and that she also wants to go to the Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir and remote areas along the Afghan border, where the Taliban and al-Qaida are tightening their grip.

“Someone has to speak up for the people of Pakistan, and the people of Pakistan support me,” she told reporters.

Details of her trip to Garhi Khuda Baksh, near the city of Larkana, about 270 miles northwest of Karachi, were shrouded in mystery, and it was not clear how many people might turn out to meet her.

“People seem to be scared after the suicide attacks, so I feel they will stay away from the rallies,” said farm shop worker Fida Hussain Sammu in Larkana.

Security officials said hundreds of police officers had been sent to areas Bhutto was likely to visit.

On Friday, Karachi police reported “developments” in their investigation into last week’s bombing, but gave no details.

Bhutto has accused elements in the government and security services of trying to kill her. She has demanded that international experts join the investigation – a call the government rejected.

The blast has raised concerns that fear of more attacks would restrict the campaign for January parliamentary elections.

But in Garhi Khuda Baksh, there was a carnival atmosphere. Flags depicting Bhutto and her late father covered walls and hung from lampposts. Workers scrubbed the white-domed mausoleum’s marble floors.

Bhutto’s trip comes a day after Islamic militants reportedly captured and beheaded three militiamen and a police officer while government troops and helicopter gunships attacked the nearby stronghold of a radical cleric in northwestern Pakistan.

After killing the four security officers, the militants displayed the severed heads in Imam Dheri village near Swat, said Badshah Gul Wazir, home secretary for the volatile North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.

Wazir would not confirm reports that the four slain men were among eight officers captured. “I know they were four, and they have been beheaded,” he said at a news conference in the city of Peshawar, the provincial capital about 30 miles from Swat.

A few hours earlier, militiamen of the regional Frontier Constabulary, supported by army helicopters, attacked the redoubt of cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who runs a sprawling seminary in Imam Dheri and leads a band of armed militants.

Hundreds of villagers fled as the two sides battled across the rushing Swat River, firing rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and other weapons. Police said one militant was known dead and two civilians were killed by stray bullets near the river.

“I never saw this type of violence in my life,” said Abdul Hamid, a 70-year-old shop owner in Swat, who sobbed as he watched thick smoke rising from trees set afire on a nearby mountain where fighting also broke out.

“Swat was one of the safest places on Pakistan, and now it has become Iraq and Afghanistan, and I don’t know what will happen in future,” Hamid said.

An aide of Fazlullah confirmed one of the cleric’s fighters was killed and said four others were wounded in the fighting, which subsided after the Muslim call to prayer at sunset.

“God willing, casualties on their side (the security forces) will be more,” the aide, Sirajuddin, told The Associated Press by telephone from Imam Dheri. He uses only one name.

He vowed Fazlullah’s supporters would fight to the death. “We have enough heavy weapons.”

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