Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Suicide Attack in Islamabad

New York Times, June 4, 2008
Pakistan Blast Was Suicide Attack

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The car-bomb attack on the Danish Embassy that killed eight people appears to have been carried out by a suicide bomber, Pakistani investigators and diplomats at Western embassies in Islamabad said Tuesday.

A senior Pakistani policeman close to the investigation said that the vehicle used in the attack — a white Toyota Corolla — had a red license plate designed to resemble a diplomatic plate and passed security guards on the road shortly before the car exploded outside the embassy at about 1 p.m. on Monday.

A television reporter for ARY television, Sabir Shakir, said he found an ear and a toe — the possible remains of the suicide bomber — near the scene of the blast in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad and gave them to investigators examining the debris.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it appeared clear that the driver of the car was in the vehicle when it detonated.

The car’s red license plate, apparently a forgery, was intended to confuse security guards and make it easier to gain access to the road that leads to the embassy building, the police said.

One of the eight people killed in the blast was a man with dual Pakistani and Danish nationality, Western diplomats said. The other seven who died were Pakistanis, including two security guards.

The bombing came as the new civilian government in Pakistan has signed a series of peace accords with Islamic militants including Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Investigators said there was no indication yet of the identity of the suicide bomber.

A surge in suicide bombings in Pakistan over the last year — there were 60 in 2007 — largely targeted the nation’s army and security forces.

The bombing Monday set off heightened concerns about security at foreign embassies whose diplomats and employees are already limited in where they can go in the capital and elsewhere in the country.

The Danish Embassy was believed to be a more likely target than other foreign missions after Danish newspapers republished cartoons in February that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons first appeared in Denmark in 2005 and sparked angry demonstrations across the Middle East and Asia in early 2006.

After the cartoons were reprinted, police protection along the road to the Danish Embassy and in the vicinity of the embassy had been reinforced, a European diplomat, who declined to be named because of fear of retaliation, said.

But the special security provisions had been relaxed recently, the diplomat said.

The diplomat said the organizers of the bombing appeared to have had some inside knowledge because the attack occurred after the easing of the security.

Most embassies in Islamabad are clustered inside a gated compound in the center of the city, but some diplomats questioned Tuesday whether the security at the entrances to that compound was sufficiently strict. A bank and some social clubs associated with embassies are also located inside the compound.

“We’re somewhat safer inside the enclave than being outside,” said a high-ranking diplomat from a large embassy inside the enclave who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But the bombing is very alarming because no matter what the immediate reason we don’t know where it will stop.”

The bombing was the second aimed at foreigners in Islamabad this year.

In March, a bomb tossed over the fence of an Italian restaurant popular with Western diplomats and aid workers killed a Turkish woman. Among the injured in that incident were five employees of the F.B.I. who were dining on the terrace.

Several embassies do not allow their diplomats to bring their children to live with them here and many Western embassies encourage their workers to keep a low profile and avoid most restaurants.

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