Sunday, March 16, 2008

Embassy personnel among injured in Islamabad blast

The FS is an incredibly small world. I have a friend in Islamabad, and have still not heard whether she is among the wounded from the Embassy. Please keep all the injured and their families in your thoughts.

Pakistan on alert as blast targets foreigners

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistan's capital was on high alert Sunday and embassies reviewed security measures after a bomb struck an Italian restaurant crowded with foreigners, killing a Turkish aid worker and wounding at least 12 other people.

U.S. and British embassy personnel were wounded in what appeared to be the first attack targeting foreigners in a recent wave of violence in Pakistan, which has been battling al-Qaida- and Taliban-linked militants.

The Saturday attack also came at a politically sensitive time -- parliament is due to convene Monday, bringing to power foes of U.S.-allied President Pervez Musharraf.

A warden notice posted on the U.S. embassy's Web site late Saturday urged Americans "to avoid areas where Westerners are known to congregate and to maintain a low profile," also noting that "American citizens should stay alert, be aware of their surroundings, reduce travel to a minimum, and act self-defensively at all times."

U.S. policy prohibits families of American diplomats from accompanying them on assignment in Pakistan, but most other countries allow it. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kay Mayfield could not comment on whether the U.S. was taking measures such as sending home nonessential employees. But, Mayfield said, "Embassies are reviewing their security practices and the guidance they give to their employees."

Concrete barriers lined streets Sunday in the upscale neighborhood around the Luna Caprese restaurant, a popular spot for expatriates in Islamabad. A dozen policemen stood guard outside the two-story villa in what was thought to be a secure neighborhood where diplomats and government officials live.

Police stepped up vehicle checks throughout the capital, a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

Officials said the bomb was planted in the restaurant's garden, which was crowded with diners, or thrown over the wall. The restaurant had a single private security guard at its entrance, but none along its perimeter.

The Foreign Ministry said Sunday the dead Turkish woman worked for a foreign aid group. A list of victims was posted in the reception of an Islamabad hospital. Five U.S. citizens were listed as undergoing surgery. One Japanese citizen, one Canadian, one Briton and three Pakistanis also were wounded.

"There were U.S. Embassy personnel among the injured. They are receiving medical treatment and their families are being notified," Mayfield said. She was unable to confirm the number of personnel wounded and their nationalities.

The British Foreign Office reported that a staff member from the British High Commission had been "lightly injured" in the blast. The man was being treated in a hospital, the office said.

Japan's Kyodo News agency said two of its journalists were injured, including the outgoing Islamabad bureau chief. One was hospitalized with a broken jaw and the other had light injuries.

Zahid Janjua, a student at the city's International Islamic University, was dining at a nearby restaurant and helped bring victims to waiting ambulances, staining his clothes with their blood.

"It was chaos. Broken tables and chairs lay scattered across the lawn. There were eight or nine people lying injured and crying for help," he said.

The blast rang out across downtown Islamabad around 8:45 p.m. local time Saturday. Fire engines and police raced to the scene, which was littered with blood and debris. A man's shoe lay in a pile of rubble.

Saturday's attack was the first in Pakistan's quiet capital in several months, and the first targeting foreigners here in more than a year. In January 2007, a security guard was killed and seven people injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Marriott hotel near parliament.

The deadliest attack on expatriates in recent years was in 2002, when five people were killed, including two Americans, when suspected Islamic militants set off grenades at a church in Islamabad's heavily guarded diplomatic enclave.

With extremist attacks overall on the rise, a growing number of Pakistanis are questioning Musharraf's approach to countering al-Qaida and the Taliban. His opponents say punitive military action has only fueled the violence.

The winning parties in last month's parliamentary elections have pledged to form a new counterterrorism strategy when they form a new coalition government next week.

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