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Gunmen fire on U.S. Consulate in Pakistan, killing 2

Saturday, March 1, 2003

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Anti-American violence returned to the southern port city of Karachi on Friday, when gunmen ran out of a park and opened fire on Pakistani police guarding the U.S. Consulate, killing two officers and injuring at least five other people.

It was the first attack targeting U.S. interests in Pakistan since June, when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-filled car into the wall of the same consulate, killing 12 Pakistanis.

An unknown number of gunmen emerged from the park across the street from the heavily fortified consulate Friday and opened fire on the policemen, some of whom were eating lunch and had put down their weapons. One attacker grabbed an officer's automatic rifle and turned it on police.

After a chase through the park, officers tackled one of the assailants and arrested him. The man, who was found carrying a pistol, was identified as an Afghan national, police said.

The wounded were taken to a hospital by motorists who stopped to help, witnesses said. Alam Zeb, an off-duty officer who suffered a bullet wound to the neck, was in a washroom next to the guard post preparing for midday Muslim prayers when the attack began. Another of the wounded was a passer-by caught in the crossfire.

No Americans were injured in the attack.

Sectarian strife

Karachi, a port city of 14 million people, has been one of Pakistan's leading centers of anti-Western violence in recent years. Lately, it also has been riven by sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslim sects.

In January last year, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi while researching Pakistani extremists. A month later, a grisly videotape sent to U.S. diplomats showed Pearl dead.

There has been a great deal of public outrage in Pakistan over a possible war on Iraq and warnings of violence if President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, backs the United States against Baghdad.

Interior Ministry spokesman Iftikhar Ahmad said security forces on are on alert, but insisted Friday's attack was not likely the result of an increase in anti-American sentiment.

"We don't think the incident has any relevance with crisis over Iraq," Ahmad said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. consul general was working closely with Pakistani investigators. "We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims," Boucher said. "It's very sad. We appreciate the fact that people were there protecting us."

Security has been intense around the U.S. mission since the bombing in June. Cement barricades stop vehicles from entering the area to prevent car bombings. High walls surround the consulate, and people entering the building are closely monitored.

"The consulate is very well protected, and all the Americans were inside," Karachi police chief Kamal Shah told reporters outside the consulate.

There are about half-dozen guard posts and a security tent near the consulate.

U.S. Consul General John Bauman told police that a camera mounted on the outside of the building recorded the shooting.

"We are very security conscious. Fortunately we are getting excellent cooperation from the Pakistani security agencies," he said.

"This is a tragic incident," Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said. "We are a target for terrorists. These people, whoever they are, are enemies of our country and are out to harm Pakistan's image."

The June car bombing was one of a series of attacks on foreigners and Pakistan's minority Christians in Pakistan since Musharraf threw his support behind the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Five suspects accused of masterminding the June bombing are on trial, charged with conspiracy, murder and terrorism. They face the death penalty if convicted.

In recent days, the city has been battered by a spate of violent religiously motivated attacks. Last weekend, nine Shiite Muslims were gunned down outside a mosque. On Thursday, in separate incidents, two Iranian Shiites and a Sunni Muslim cleric were shot and killed.


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