U.S. officials escape bin Laden revenge bombing in Pakistan

McClatchy NewspapersMay 20, 2011 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two American officials were saved by their armored vehicle Friday when it was hit by a bomb in the northwestern city of Peshawar in an apparent revenge attack for the killing of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

It was the first assault on Americans in Pakistan since the May 2 U.S. special forces raid that found bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad in Pakistan's north.

Passersby were not so lucky. At least one was killed and 13 injured, Pakistani officials said.

“Unfortunately, while they (Americans) have bullet proof vehicles, the ordinary people of Peshawar don’t,” said Bashir Bilour, a senior provincial government minister.

The Pakistani Taliban, which is closely allied with al Qaida, claimed responsibility.

“The diplomatic staff of all NATO countries are our targets," said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, told reporters by telephone. “We will continue such attacks. Pakistan is our first target, and America is our second.”

Last week, the Pakistani Taliban, in its first act of retribution for the bin Laden killing, claimed a suicide bombing at a paramilitary training center in the country's northwest that killed more than 80, most of them young recruits.

The two U.S. government employees were on their way to work at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar at about 8:30 a.m. when the bomb exploded. There were different accounts of whether the bomb was carried on a motorbike, in a parked car or planted on the road, U.S. embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said.

“The folks in the car saw a motorcycle drive up and then boom. But maybe this guy (on the bike) was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Rodriguez. “Right now, it’s not clear if the bomb was in a vehicle, on a body, or planted.”

The Americans received only minor injuries, the worst of which might be a broken bone in one hand, Rodriguez said. Their vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser sports utility vehicle, was damaged and ended up rammed into a utility pole.

“The jeep was on its way from the American Club to the Consulate. When it passed a parked Suzuki car, there was an explosion. Those sitting in the jeep were saved,” Peshawar city police chief Liaquat Ali Khan told reporters. He said investigators believe the bomb contained 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of explosives.

The heavily fortified U.S. consulate in Peshawar serves the militancy-plagued northwest of the country, which borders the lawless tribal area, while Afghanistan lies just beyond. U.S. diplomats, security personnel and CIA officers based there are an obvious target. It is widely believed that the U.S. consulate in Peshawar serves mostly as a spying operation. It was unclear what work the two Americans targeted did at the consulate.

Most consulate employees live in an upscale residential area, University Town, close to a recreation facility known as the American club. From there, they travel every day to the consulate across town. The predictability of their morning movement and the limited number of routes to the consulate making them particularly vulnerable on their way to work.

Earlier this week, a Saudi diplomat in the southern city of Karachi was assassinated on his way to work — in a car that wasn’t armored — when gunmen on a motorbike approached and sprayed the vehicle.

In 2008, the then top diplomat posted at the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, Lynne Tracy, escaped a gun attack on her vehicle, soon after she left her home, when an alert driver sped away. Also in 2008, Stephen Vance, an American aid worker, was assassinated on his way to work in Peshawar. Last year, the consulate came under a multi-prong bomb and grenade attack, killing eight Pakistanis.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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For more coverage of Osama bin Laden's death, visit McClatchy's bin Laden page.

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