Top U.S. diplomat in Peshawar, Pakistan, unhurt after ambush

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 26, 2008 

Islamabad, Pakistan — Gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying the top U.S. diplomat in the volatile northwestern city of Peshawar Tuesday. But consul-general Lynne Tracy was unhurt as were the other two U.S. consular employees.

The assault comes as Pakistani security forces are battling Taliban militants in two areas that border Peshawar — the Bajaur tribal area and the valley of Swat. The extremists have vowed revenge, carrying out two suicide bomb attacks last week, although there was no claim of responsibility for the attempt on Tracy.

Tracy was attacked in her armor-plated vehicle just after she was driven out of her home in the university town residential district of Peshawar, the capital of the insurgency-plagued North West Frontier Province.

Gunmen leaped out of a Toyota Land Cruiser jeep, which blocked her vehicle, and sprayed it with bullets from automatic weapons, NWFP police chief Malik Naveed Khan said.

However, the bullets either did not hit or bounced off the armor of her vehicle. Her driver quickly reversed back into her home, knocking over a rickshaw in the panic, whose driver was taken to hospital.

"The people never pursued her," Khan said. "It's early to say (who was behind it), we are looking into all aspects."

The only damage was to the engine of Tracy's vehicle, which was hit by bullets that ricocheted off the road, said Khan.

The U.S. consulate is a fortress-like building, surrounded by rings of concrete and barbed wire, which is about a 20 -minute drive from Tracy's home. But the home of the consul-general is a regular-looking house that does not appear to have any special protection. Tracy, originally from Ohio, has held the post for two years.

Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, confirmed that a "security incident" had taken place in Peshawar involving a consulate vehicle in which no employee was injured, but would give no further details.

"The consulate is open and operating normally," said Fintor.

Around 100 Americans and Pakistanis work at the consulate in Peshawar, a tempting target for extremists. From there and the embassy in Islamabad, which are both thought to have a major CIA presence, U.S. officials monitor militant groups operating in Pakistan. Peshawar is located on the edge of the lawless tribal area, which is a base for Taliban and al Qaida operating in neighboring Afghanistan.

In 2006, a suicide car bomb attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi killed an American diplomat. Earlier this year, a car bombing at the Danish embassy in Islamabad killed five Pakistanis.

Rustam Shah, an analyst who was formerly the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, said that militants' anger against Pakistani army operations might also be directed against U.S. interests.

"They (the militants) believe this force has become a stooge, promoting someone else's agenda," said Shah. "They regard them as America's mercenaries."

Separately, three contenders put in their nominations for the contest to be the next president of Pakistan Tuesday, including Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is almost certain to win. Zardari lodged his nomination as details emerged of court documents in London, in which his doctors declared just last year that he was suffering severe psychiatric problems.

Zardari's defense had filed the court papers, reported in the Financial Times, in a successful attempt to postpone a court hearing over corruption allegations.

A spokesperson for Zardari's Pakistan People's Party, Farahnaz Ispahani, said Zardari "was indeed unwell for a time after his release from prison (in 2004). He is now in good health. Distorting the private health records of our nation's leader is a remnant of a darker era of our national history."

Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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