Bombing outside US embassy in Karachi kills 11


PAKISTAN: The US yesterday condemned a truck-bomb attack outside its consulate in Karachi and closed its diplomatic missions in Pakistan and the American Centre in Islamabad.

The bombing - which damaged the Karachi consulate and killed 11 people, none of whom were US government employees - slightly wounded a US Marine guard and five local Pakistani employees at the mission, a State Department spokeswoman, Ms Lynn Cassel, said.

"In addition, we believe that two or more contract consulate guards were critically injured," she said, calling the explosion the result of an "enormous truck- bomb" that went off just 15 metres from the south-east corner of the consulate.

The White House spokesman, Mr Ari Fleischer, said the bombing demonstrated the dangers terrorists continue to pose for the US in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

"This is a vivid reminder of the fact our nation is at war against terrorists who use any means at their disposal to harm Americans and others," he told reporters travelling with President Bush to Columbus, Ohio.

Mr Fleischer said he was unable to confirm whether al-Qaeda was behind yesterday's attack.

"We condemn this heinous attack on our consulate general in Karachi," deputy State Department spokesman, Mr Philip Reeker, said in a statement.

"We are outraged by the fact that at least 11 Pakistanis, some of whom were there to protect the consulate, died and many others were injured," he said.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families."

Ms Cassel said the attack "appears to be a suicide-bombing, but we have received no claim of responsibility."

She said the US embassy and American Centre were closed to the public immediately after the blast, as were the consulates in Lahore and Peshawar. The missions were to remain closed to the public at least through the weekend, she said.

The attack came a day after the US Defence Secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, visited Pakistan on a mission to ease tensions with India, and a month after another Karachi car-bombing that killed 11 French nationals travelling in a minibus.

Police officers at the scene said the vehicle used in the attack was a small, high-roofed Suzuki van. The device was detonated when the truck reached the corner of the compound.

Earlier this month, the State Department strongly urged all Americans in Pakistan and India to leave the countries amid fears that tensions over the disputed Kashmir region could escalate to war between the nuclear rivals.

Pakistan said yesterday it had pulled back its warships from high-alert positions, but tension with India continued as intense shelling resumed in Kashmir and an Indian general warned that Islamic militants were readying to launch attacks in the disputed region. The Pakistani naval withdrawal came after India announced yesterday it had returned around 20 ships to base from near Pakistani waters as a sign it is committed to peace.

Even as the ships were withdrawing, fierce artillery shelling between Indian and Pakistan troops erupted again in Kashmir after an overnight lull. Police and officials reported three people killed and at least 10 injured.

Mr Rumsfeld urged that the guns in Kashmir be silenced. He said the danger of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan had passed.