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Bomber kills 11 outside U.S. Consulate in Pakistan

Officials say the suicide attack was likely carried out by al-Qaida. No Americans died in the massive blast.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The huge explosion that killed 11 people Friday outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi bears the markings of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida and its network of suicide bombers, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

No Americans were killed, but two of the dead were police officers assigned to the consulate. Forty-five people were injured, including a U.S. Marine guard and five Pakistani employees of the United States.

It was the third suicide bomb attack on a Western target in Pakistan since March and prompted the U.S. government to close other diplomatic outposts in the country.

Police said a man crashed a small white van into a police guard post at the consulate at 1:08 a.m. EDT. It exploded and left an 8-foot-deep hole in the street and shattered windows in the consulate and the nearby Marriott hotel. Dozens of cars were destroyed.

Tight security measures, including concrete barriers around a 10-foot-high concrete wall, probably prevented more casualties inside the heavily guarded compound.

No one claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, the second suicide bombing in just over a month in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.

President Bush said the bombing speaks to the nature of terrorism itself.

"We fight an enemy that are radical killers; that's what they are," Bush said. "They claim they are religious people, and then blow up Muslims. They have no regard for human life."

U.S. officials in Washington said they suspect al-Qaida or affiliated Islamic extremist groups carried out the attack, but have no direct evidence.

Many in Pakistan also suspect al-Qaida operatives or sympathetic groups are responsible and are sending a clear signal that they are still capable of inflicting great harm, despite the U.S. war on terrorism.

"Without a doubt, it's al-Qaida or someone connected to them," said Syed Kabir Ali Wasti, vice president of the national Muslim League, one of the two dominant political parties in Pakistan. "These people want to destabilize the country. By hitting Karachi, our main port, they could collapse our economy."

Friday's explosion was the largest in a series of such incidents that has killed three Americans and 11 French citizens this year.

On May 8, 11 French naval engineers and three others were killed when a suicide bomber struck in front of the Karachi Sheraton, not far from the scene of Friday's explosion.

Karachi was also where Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted and slain in January while working on a story about Islamic militants. Four Islamic militants are on trial.

On March 17, a man ran down the aisle of a Protestant church near the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, throwing grenades. He was killed along with four others, including two Americans -- a U.S. Embassy employee and her teenage daughter. Members of a family from Brandon were injured.

The consulate in Karachi, four stories high and a block long, served as the U.S. Embassy until the early 1960s, when Pakistan moved its capital to Islamabad, and the excess space has been put to use as a buffer against attack.

Offices facing Abdullah Haroon Road, a main thoroughfare in front of the building, are kept empty and a side street closer to occupied offices is permanently closed to traffic.

A State Department official said the bombing led to the early closing Friday of the American Center in Islamabad and consular offices in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

U.S. Consul General John Bauman said employees in Karachi were instructed to return to work Monday to resume the consulate's normal functions, including receiving aid shipments and other goods passing through the port city en route to Afghanistan.

The consulate's American staff handles such diplomatic chores as processing visa applications and addressing the needs of American citizens. A contingent of FBI and other security agents are stationed at the consulate, which has been the target of sporadic attacks for decades.

Bauman said the American staff would grow to 80 by today. Most of the additional personnel will be troops to supplement the consulate's Marine guards in securing the building. About a dozen criminal investigators, including FBI agents, are also en route.

Wasti and other Pakistani officials are especially alarmed at the use of suicide bombers to strike at American targets inside their country.

"This kind of suicide attack is entirely new to us, and it means that we're now in great danger," he said. "Suicide bombers targeting U.S. installations shows that these al-Qaida are now active in Pakistan. There's simply no doubt about it."

Al-Qaida has sent its agents on what it calls "martyrdom operations" many times before, the worst being on Sept. 11. Al-Qaida is also believed to be behind the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 4,000.

"This is a vivid reminder of the fact that our nation is at war," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Terrorists will use whatever means are at their disposal, no matter how despicable, to harm Americans and others."

President Bush vowed to continue to fight terrorism.

"These people, if they think they are going to intimidate the United States, they don't understand the United States of America," Bush said on a tour of Houston.

The explosion happened just one day after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld left Pakistan. Rumsfeld had urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to continue his crackdown on religious extremists.

But crushing Islamic militants in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, is no easy task. Radical Islamic groups are prevalent in Pakistan and bin Laden is still a popular figure in many parts of the country. Islamic radicals are likely to continue to strike at the United States to avenge its bombing of Afghanistan and its targeting of the country's former Taliban rulers and al-Qaida militants.

Naimat Ullah, the mayor of Karachi, angrily vowed to hunt down the plotters of the attack.

"The terrorists have no religion," he said. "They are not Muslim. They are not human."

Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, said the blast could be a sign that al-Qaida agents are active in Pakistan or that Islamic radicals are challenging Musharraf's crackdown.

"And you can't rule out the India factor," he said.

Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan are locked in a tense situation along their border in Kashmir.

India quickly condemned Friday's suicide attack.

"It's a very sad and a very regrettable incident that we condemn fully," India's foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, said in New Delhi. "I am really grieved and unhappy that yet another terrorist activity of a suicide bomb variety has taken place in Karachi."

-- Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers, Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.

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