Investigators look for clues in rubble

KARACHI, Pakistan, AP

U.S. and Pakistani investigators swarmed the site of a deadly car bombing outside the American Consulate in Karachi on Saturday, trying to piece together the debris for clues for who was behind the latest attack on foreigners in Pakistan.

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the massive blast Friday that killed 11 people and injured 45 as it blew a gaping hole in the heavily guarded consulate’s perimeter wall, shattered windows in buildings a block away and sent debris flying for a kilometer (half-mile).

The widespread devastation made it difficult to piece together events leading up to the bombing, even which vehicle contained the explosives.

Initial reports indicated a suicide attacker was responsible, but police said they also were looking at the possibility that the bomb was hidden in a car carrying a driving school instructor and three female students, then set off by remote control as it passed the consulate.

“We are keeping all options open … this could be one possibility which can’t be ruled out,” said Brig. Mukhtar Shaekh, home secretary in Sindh province.

A U.S. Consulate spokesman, who declined to be identified, said a number of American teams were coming into Karachi to investigate the crime scene and evaluate structural damage to the building. Additional security also was arriving.

“We are looking for information that will be useful in identifying the perpetrators and finding evidence that would bring the criminals to justice,” the spokesman said.

The United States promptly closed its consulates in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, as well as the American Center in Islamabad. A State Department official said a decision will be made soon whether to reopen them Monday. The fourth attack against foreigners in Pakistan since January also prompted the U.S. government to consider scaling back its diplomatic staff in this country on the front line of the war against al-Qaida.

Security also was tightened at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, capital of neighboring Afghanistan. The road in front of the embassy, which sits across the street from the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Forces, was blocked to vehicles by Afghan security guards at either end of the kilometer-long (half-mile) block, although pedestrians and bicyclists were being allowed in the area.

No Americans were among the dead, but one U.S. Marine guard and five Pakistani employees at the consulate suffered slight injuries from flying debris. Tight security measures, including concrete barriers around a 3-meter (10-foot-high) concrete wall, probably prevented more casualties inside the heavily guarded compound.

The dead included a Kenyan physician, Aliyah Warsi, and her uncle. They had just left the Marriott after booking facilities for her scheduled marriage to a Pakistani man.

U.S. officials in Washington said they suspect al-Qaida or affiliated Islamic extremist groups carried out the attack, but have no direct evidence. Several Pakistani groups in Karachi have ties to Osama bin Laden’s terror network.

Late Friday, Karachi newspapers received a fax message claiming responsibility in the name of the previously unknown “Al-Qanoon,” or The Law. The message said the attack was a “preview with more to follow” and was part of a holy war against the United States and its “puppet ally,” the Pakistani government.

In Washington, U.S. counterterrorism officials said they were aware of the claim but had not determined if it was credible. And 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. For the good of freedom, for the good of America and our allies and friends, we’re going to hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.”

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad notified Americans in Pakistan about the bombing and advised them to take precautions.

Police said the driver clipped a police guard post at the southern end of the consulate before slamming into one of the meter-high (3-foot-high) concrete security barriers around the perimeter wall.

The vehicle exploded, disintegrating the barrier, collapsing part of the steel-reinforced concrete wall around the compound. The blast incinerated nearly 20 cars and damaged a large tree inside the compound.

Many victims were blown to bits, their body parts found hundreds of meters (yards) away.

Violence against foreigners has increased since Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf threw his support behind the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

The blast occurred less than a mile from the site where 11 French engineers and three others were killed in a suicide bombing May 8. Police suspect Islamic extremists, possibly al-Qaida members, were responsible.

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 in that case.

On March 17, a man ran down the aisle of a church in Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave, throwing grenades. He was killed along with four others, including two Americans — a U.S. Embassy employee and her teenage daughter. The man has not been identified.