Pakistan Attacks Kill 38, Strike at US Consulate

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Agence France-Presse

Pakistan Attacks Kill 38, Strike at US Consulate

by
Lehaz Ali

Three powerful explosions and gunfire erupted near the US consulate and sensitive military installations in Peshawar. (AFP)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Suspected Islamist militants waged a series of
attacks in northwest Pakistan on Monday, striking at the US consulate
in Peshawar and killing 38 people at a political rally in a nearby town.

Three
powerful explosions and gunfire erupted near the US consulate and
sensitive military installations in Peshawar, the capital of
northwestern Pakistan, witnesses and a security official said.

The
attacks occurred at a checkpoint about 20 metres (yards) from the US
consulate on the road leading to the diplomatic mission, an AFP
correspondent said.

"We can confirm there has been an attack at
the US consulate Peshawar facilities," US embassy spokeswoman Ariel
Howard told AFP, unable to provide any details about the nature of the
attack, possible damage or casualties.

Pakistani police and army
sealed off the entire area, preventing journalists from accessing the
scene. At least two ambulances were seen driving away, but a hospital
official in Peshawar said initially that only one person was wounded.

Television
broadcast bouts of heavy gunfire, and clouds of smoke rising over the
garrison part of the city, close to the consulate and the Peshawar
headquarters of Pakistan's top spy agency, which was bombed last
November.

Peshawar lies on the edge of Pakistan's tribal belt --
branded by Washington a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda -- and has been
subject to numerous attacks by Islamist militants, although recent
months have seen a relative lull.

A Pakistani intelligence
official said he suspected that Islamist militants were holed up in the
area, but said it was immpossible to verify this because of the gunfire
in the area.

More than 3,150 people have been killed in suicide
and bomb attacks over the last three years in Pakistan, blamed on
militants opposed to the US alliance in the war on Al-Qaeda and against
the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Shortly before the
Peshawar explosions, a suicide bomber attacked an open-air rally in the
northwest district of Lower Dir, where Pakistan waged a major offensive
against local Taliban insurgents last year.

The attack occurred
during a celebration organised by the leading secular political party
in northwest and was the deadliest in Lower Dir since the anti-Taliban
offensive.

"We have received 38 dead bodies," Doctor Wakeel
Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Timargarah told AFP. "There are
more than 100 injured. Most of them are in a serious condition. I'm
still sending out my ambulances."

Timargarah police chief Mumtaz
Zareen told AFP that it was a suicide attack, adding: "The man came on
foot and detonated himself."

Residents reportedly said the bomb exploded close to the stage at the political gathering.

The
Awami National Party (ANP) said it organised the meeting to celebrate
plans to rename North West Frontier Province -- Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as
laid out in a package of constitutional reform being debated in the
federal parliament.

The new name honours the Pashtun-majority
population in the province, replaces a name that dates back to British
colonial rule and is part of efforts to devolve greater authority to
the provinces.

"Our party had arranged a thanksgiving day to
celebrate the changing of the name after 200 years of colonial legacy,"
ANP spokesman Zahid Khan told Pakistan's private Geo television.

Lower
Dir borders Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, where suspected Taliban
armed with petrol bombs and rockets torched eight tankers used to
supply fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan before dawn on Monday,
officials said.

Dozens of fighters launched the attack at Zakha
Khel in the tribal district of Khyber, local administration chief
Shafeerullah Wazir told AFP.

The tankers had recently returned
from supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan, where around 126,000 foreign
troops are trying to help the Western-backed government put down a
nearly nine-year Taliban insurgency.

Another official, Rehan Gul
Khattak, blamed the attack on Taliban. Islamist gunmen frequently
attack vehicles travelling through Khyber on the main NATO land supply
route through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Under US pressure,
Pakistan has in the past year significantly increased operations
against militants in its tribal belt, following the 2009 offensive in
Lower Dir and neighbouring districts Swat and Buner.

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