By Jeremy Lovell

A bomb blast outside a Cape Town mosque on Tuesday was a guerrilla attack on a senior politician attending a nearby rally, South Africa's justice minister, Penuell Maduna, said on Wednesday.

"There is a terror campaign. They nearly hit the premier (of the Western Cape). They were showing us that they are following us all over," Maduna told a news conference.

The provincial premier, Gerald Morkel, said he felt the blast from the bomb as he stepped from his car. The vehicle was damaged in the explosion.

"I think the aim last night was to murder a state premier," he said. "It was not aimed at me personally, but at a figure of state. I had a very lucky escape."

The bomb, strapped to a tree between the mosque and the Samaj community centre where the political rally was being held in the Cape Town suburb of Gatesville, exploded shortly before 18h00 GMT, injuring seven people.

The casualties included a policewoman and a young girl.

The blast followed a warning by the minister of safety and security, Steve Tshwete, on Tuesday that Cape Town faced a major bomb threat.

The latest explosion was the 20th in South Africa's top tourist destination in just over two years. Tshwete said it was a terror campaign by Muslim extremists against the state.

The government has blamed the blasts, and the assassination of prominent anti-terror judge Piet Theron in the driveway of his home last Thursday, on Muslim vigilante group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad).

"We in the government are at war with Pagad. We are at war with people who use instruments of terror," Tshwete told reporters on Wednesday. "We must nip this terrorist element in the bud."

Three people have been killed in the explosions which have also injured more than 100 people - some of whom have lost limbs.

Targets have included police stations, a synagogue, gay bars, restaurants, the airport and a busy city thoroughfare.

Pagad, which shot to notoriety in 1996 when a local gang leader was lynched during one of its marches, rejects the charges.

But many of its members have either been convicted of firearms or explosives offences or are in court, in custody or out on bail.

Tuesday's explosion was preceded by four car bombs in under a month, all involving potentially powerful fertiliser bombs that failed to detonate properly.

Maduna said he was preparing to push through tough new legislation to combat urban guerrilla violence which was threatening to undermine the democracy the ruling African National Congress had fought to achieve.

He stressed he was not about to propogate a law harking back to the days of apartheid and rejected a suggestion that a state of emergency be declared in the province.

"I don't think the situation warrants the declaration of a state of emergency. The situation warrants a frontal attack on a small clique," he said.

Ibrahim Jenneker and two other top Pagad enforcers are in jail awaiting trial on a total of 124 charges, including murdering a policeman. At least three witnesses against the men have been killed.

That case, and the trial of Pagad leader Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim - accused of the 1996 gangster murder and crimes against the state - are set to start in November. - Reuters