At least 11 people, including women and three Frontier Constabulary personnel, were killed and 50 others injured when a suicide assailant crashed an explosive-laden Suzuki car into a guard post just outside the American Consulate in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Friday. Coming hot on the heels of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's tension-defusing mission to the region, the massive explosion caused structural damage to the consulate building, a hotel and other property in the immediate vicinity.
Though no group or individual has so far claimed responsibility for the murderous attack, yet officials suspected the blast could be the handiwork of disgruntled extremist elements linked to the al-Qaeda network.
The perimeter wall of the establishment was damaged, witnesses said, adding panicked US marines swung into action immediately after the bombing. "They took up positions around the consulate," an official at the scene said.
The victims - all believed to be Pakistanis - included women and six men. A 35-year-old man, his spouse and their infant child, riding on a motorcycle, were also killed, police said, revealing body parts were scattered all over the place.
They believed it was a suicide assault targeting foreigners, the second in about a month's time. Initial reports said the fatalities did not include any American staffers of the consulate. A number of police officials, who were on duty outside the premises, also sustained injuries in the powerful blast that rocked the nearby buildings and caused security scares in this commercial hub.
Two of the women victims were identified as Farkhanda Jabeen, wife of Hasan Ashraf, and Nida Nazir, daughter of Muhammad Nazir, while paramilitary troopers Arsalan Khan, Shahbaz Ali Khan and Fajoor Khan were also confirmed dead.
Six consulate employees, one American and five Pakistanis, were reported to have suffered minor injuries when they were hit by flying debris. Over a dozen cars parked in the vicinity were badly damaged, with their wind-screens blown out.
According to one eye-witness account, a deep crater was caused into the road next to the consulate's boundary wall as a result of the explosion that sent parts of the high-roofed car into pieces. "Such was the intensity of the blast that a number of the car components went flying into a park across the road," he claimed.
Wire news agencies report that five bodies of the victims were intact and sent to hospital and there were three more, whose parts were lying in different places. "They are at three different places, virtually ripped apart." Officials at Karachi's Jinnah Hospital said 26 people injured in the blast had been admitted for treatment and were in a serious condition.
"At this point we believe that six consulate employees, one American and five Pakistani employees of the consulate, sustained minor injuries when struck by flying debris," said a spokesman for the US embassy in the federal capital, Islamabad.
The US embassy was not able to confirm police reports that a consulate guard was killed in the attack, he said. "It was a car bomb, but we don't know whether the vehicle was parked or whether it was moving. The blast was so powerful that the vehicle flew from one side of the road to the other side of the road," city police chief Tariq Jamil said.
The Pakistani southern provincial home secretary Mukhtar Sheikh said it was believed that the bomber was among the dead, but that no consulate staff were hurt in the blast. "No one among the consulate officials or staffers has been killed or injured in the blast. However, we are still assessing the identity of those killed," he said.
Police said the vehicle used in the attack was a high-roofed Suzuki van, which had been traveling along the road where the consulate building stands. The bomb was detonated when it reached the corner of the compound, and the huge explosion that followed destroyed part of the perimeter wall of the consulate, but left the main gate intact. Concealed in the white car, the bomb exploded at around 11:15 am according to the Pakistan standard time, shattering windowpanes of the nearby Marriott Hotel. Sharif Ajnabi, a private security guard, was sitting in a park across the street from the consulate when the bomb went off.
"I heard a deafening explosion," he said. "There was smoke everywhere. "Moments later, I saw a man's body flying in the air, and it fell near me. He was badly injured. Before we could give him water or medical help, he died. It was a horrifying scene."
Ambulances shuttled the injured to nearby hospitals. What appeared to be wreckage from the car was stuck in a water fountain and in trees. "This is sheer terrorism," said Javed Ashraf Hussein, the chief administrator of the Sindh province, who visited the scene of carnage. "We have put this area under high alert and heavy security, but the terrorists struck." He would not comment on who might be responsible. Karachi Mayor Naimat Ullah offered sympathy for US officials and vowed to arrest those behind the attack. "The terrorists have no religion. They are not Muslim. They are not human. They are just terrorists," he said.
A police official said Karachi police had received a tip-off a week ago that another suicide blast was imminent but didn't have details of when or where. Police immediately cordoned off the scene and later closed all roads leading to the consulate and the Marriott Hotel, with hundreds of police and paramilitary rangers standing guard.
Safiullah Gul PRAVDA.Ru Pakistan
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