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FBI joins Pakistani police probing consular blast

By Super
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Karachi, Mar 03: The FBI has joined Pakistani police to hunt the planners of a suicide car bomb attack that killed four people, including a US diplomat, outside the US consulate in Karachi, officials today (Mar 03, 2006) said.

Suspicion for yesterday attack in the southern city has fallen on an al Qaeda-linked Pakistani militant group opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's support for the US-led war on terrorism.

"It's a joint investigation ... and I think quite a bit of progress has been made", Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told Reuters in the capital, Islamabad.

Investigators were examining security camera footage that showed the bomber arriving at the scene of the blast, parking and leaving for 20 minutes before coming back and ramming the US mission's vehicle, he said.

A bearded man of medium height in his 20s, wearing a shalwar-kameez tunic, rammed a white Toyota Corolla packed with explosives into the vehicle metres from the consulate's entrance, setting off a blast that also wounded 52 people.

Police sources said when the attacker saw the US consulate car approaching, he rushed back to his car and drove into the U S vehicle, despite an attempt by a paramilitary vehicle to intercept him.

Police estimate the bomb contained at least 15 kg (33 lb) of explosives.

The attack came less then 48 hours before a visit to the country by President George W Bush. Mr Bush is due to arrive late tonight and hold talks with President Musharraf in Islamabad on tomorrow.

He was not expected to visit Karachi during his short visit, which analysts see as a gesture of support for Musharraf.

A spokesman for the government of Sindh province said an FBI team including officials based in Afghanistan had inspected the wreckage of the vehicles.

"They took some photographs and also interviewed some people,'' said the spokesman, Salahuddin Haider. ''They also exchanged some information with our investigators". The suicide bomber killed US consular official David Foy, his driver and a Pakistani paramilitary trooper. Police suspect a fourth, headless body was that of the bomber.

Investigators had found body parts and the skull of the lone attacker, and a DNA test would be conducted, said Karachi police chief Niaz Siddiqui. Witnesses were helping draft a sketch of the attacker.

Well-Planned

Sherpao declined to speculate on who might be responsible for the attack which he said was aimed at embarrassing Pakistan in the run-up to Bush's visit.

Haider said earlier suspicion had fallen on Jundullah, a pro-al Qaeda militant group that ambushed the Karachi corps army chief's motorcade in June 2004.

The corps commander survived but 10 other people, including six soldiers, were killed. Last week, a Karachi anti-terrorism court sentenced 11 Jundullah members to death for the attack.

A senior investigator who declined to be identified said evidence suggested the bomber belonged to a well-organised group.

"The bomber looks like an educated person, and the attack seems to be a very coordinated and well-planned one,'' the official said. "It is not like some Islamic militant came out from a madrasa (Islamic school) and carried out the attack". The official said the car's engine and chassis numbers had been tampered with, and the licence plate was fake.

A car bomb outside the consulate in 2002 killed 12 Pakistanis. In 1995, gunmen ambushed a U S consulate vehicle in Karachi and killed two staff members. Four Americans working for a U S oil firm were killed in Karachi in 1997.

Reuters

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