Hindu Vivek Kendra
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At Least 14 Die in Attack on French Group in Pakistan

At Least 14 Die in Attack on French Group in Pakistan

Author: Raymond Bonner
Publication: The New York Times
Date: May 9, 2002

At least 14 people, most of them French, were killed and more than 20 seriously wounded today when a suicide car-bomber pulled a red Toyota alongside a shuttle bus in front of the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Karachi and exploded it.

The bus, operated by the Pakistani Navy, had stopped at the hotel to pick up the French civilians working on a submarine project for the Pakistani government.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, called the bombing an "act of international terrorism," and President Jacques Chirac of France said it was a "murderous, cowardly, odious terrorist attack."

There was no claim of responsibility, but Western and Pakistani officials said the bombing had all the markings of an operation of the sort carried out by Al Qaeda, and they warned of more attacks.

The attack, coming two months after a suicide bomber killed five people, including two Americans, in an attack on a church here in the capital, represented an ominous shift in the method, magnitude and targets of terrorist attacks in this country.

Sectarian violence has been nearly endemic here - a lawyer, a high-school principal and a doctor have been killed in the latest wave of killing - but suicide bombings have been extremely rare.

Moreover, in the past, the targets have been Pakistanis, Iranians or Americans. Today's attack, along with the attack on the church, which is in the diplomatic compound, were aimed "at the Western community," said a Western diplomat.

"Any place where foreigners gather is now vulnerable," he added.

The two attacks appear to be linked, Pakistani officials said. The Western diplomat referred to them as "a one-two" and called today's attack "very well planned."

The American Embassy in Islamabad warned American citizens in the country "to maintain a low profile and avoid predictable patterns and behaviors."

There was no apparent link between the bombing and the trial of four men who are accused of the kidnapping and murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, which resumed today in Hyderabad, about 100 miles northeast of Karachi. The trial had been moved from Karachi for security reasons.

Once again, the trial, which prosecutors had originally said would be finished by mid-April, was put off, as defense lawyers sought to have the case moved back to Karachi.

There were fears that more attacks were likely here, aimed at foreigners and at the government of General Musharraf, who has sided with the United States in the war on terrorism.

"This may not be the end," Pakistan's minister of information, Nisar A. Memon, said at a news conference here this evening. "It appears their nefarious designs will continue."

He said he was not basing the warning on any specific intelligence but on the "historic facts in the last few months."

Today's attack raises fundamental questions about security here, and serious challenges for General Musharraf, diplomats and Pakistani political analysts said.

"If the government of Pakistan can't protect workers in the defense industry, what does it say for its security?" said one diplomat.

The diplomat said General Musharraf must act decisively, within in the next two or three days. "If I were him, I would crack down with a vengeance," the diplomat said.

In an impoverished country already on the ropes economically, today's attack has caused "enormous damage," he said.

"Who is going to invest here now?" he said.

A senior Pakistani official agreed. "He has to act and act quickly," the official said, referring to General Musharraf. "We have to do more than issue a press release."

But the measures announced by the government after General Musharraf met with his security advisers seemed modest and suggested how difficult it will be to prevent suicide attacks in this country, which has a long, porous border with Afghanistan and whose police officers are poorly trained and underpaid.

The government said that it was beefing up its intelligence gathering and security at places where foreigners gather, which is what the government said after the church attack two months ago.

Today, the government also established a toll-free hot line for people to report suspicious terrorist activity, and a Web site: www.geocities.com/ wantedforterrorism.

Today's attack would also seem to underscore questions that have been asked recently about just how effective General Musharraf has been in his declared war on violent Muslim groups here.

The president has banned several groups, and authorities have rounded up about 2,000 men suspected of links to terrorist organizations.

But nearly three-quarters of those arrested have been released and not a single person has been charged. "This raises fundamental questions about his follow-up," one diplomat said.

After the church bombing, the government promised a swift investigation and a report that was to have been finished by early April. But the report has not been released, and the authorities appear no closer to solving the crime. The identity of the man who blew himself up remains a mystery.

Parts of his body have been sent to the United States, and Pakistan has asked for help in recreating his face and body.

"The investigation is resting there," the senior civil officer in the Ministry of Interior, Tasnim Noorani, said at today's news conference.

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