Karachi consulate to reopen; police question religious student

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Police expanded their inquiry Monday into last week's deadly car bombing outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, questioning a man already in custody who has provided investigators with information about a militant group trained in explosives.

The man, identified as Mohammad Umer, is a religious student with ties to the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He was arrested after a May 8 suicide bombing that killed 11 French engineers and three Pakistanis, said Police Chief Kamal Shah.

"He is a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operative who had a 250,000-rupee price on his head," Shah told reporters. "He has, under interrogation, given us some useful tips."

Umer has not been charged with any offense.

However, investigators, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had intensified questioning of Umer after last Friday's blast, which tore a gaping hole in the U.S. Consulate's perimeter wall, killing 12 people and injuring more than 50.

Umer was first picked up two months ago during police sweeps of Islamic radicals.

He told authorities then about a five-member gang that studied at a religious school in Karachi and had been trained by two Arab men in how to make bombs, police said. At the time, he was released but police said Umer's story gained credibility after last month's bombing of a Pakistani Navy bus carrying French engineers in Karachi. He was again detained May 8 and remains in Karachi's Central Jail.

Since Friday's bombing outside the Karachi consulate, Umer has become an important figure, police investigators said.

'Enhanced security'

Meanwhile, the U.S. Consulate announced it will reopen for business Tuesday with "enhanced security," a consulate official said.

"Tomorrow, our full American and Pakistani staff will be back at work and the consulate will begin resuming normal operations. But in the near future, the U.S. Consulate building will only be open to American citizens," said the official, who declined to be identified.

FBI agents have been working with Pakistani investigators to reconstruct the sequence of events before the explosive-laden car crashed into the consulate's wall. The initial blast killed 11 people, and a 12th victim died Sunday of injuries.

No Americans were killed. A U.S. Marine guard and five Pakistani consulate employees received minor injuries.

On Sunday, the previously unknown "al-Qanoon, or "The Law" group, which has claimed responsibility for the Friday attack, faxed a message to the Pakistani newspaper Ummat calling on President Pervez Musharraf to resign. The group threatened more attacks.

In Washington, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was still unclear who carried out Friday's consulate bombing.

"Either al-Qaida or Pakistani militant groups were responsible. At this point, it's not clear," the official said.

The official said al-Qanoon "could be a cover name for an existing group, or it could be a hoax claim."

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