- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – A car bomb exploded outside the Danish Embassy in Islamabad on Monday, killing six people and wounding dozens weeks after al-Qaida issued threats against Denmark over the reprinting of a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.The blast is likely to lead to Western pressure on Pakistan’s new government to roll back its policy of trying to strike deals with militant groups instead of using military force.The bombing was the worst anti-Danish attack since the Muhammad cartoons first appeared nearly three years ago. At least five and possibly all six of the dead were Pakistanis.There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though suspicion quickly fell on al-Qaida. As recently as April, the terror network’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, called for attacks on Danish targets in response to the drawings.The attacker apparently used a fake diplomatic license plate to get the car near the embassy, according to authorities, who were investigating whether it was a suicide attack. Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said evidence indicated the car was a Toyota Corolla carrying 55 pounds of explosives.The blast left a huge crater in the road outside the embassy, destroyed nearby vehicles and badly damaged the office of a U.N.-funded development group. A perimeter wall of the embassy collapsed and its metal gate was blown inward, but the embassy building itself remained standing, though its windows were shattered. Several diplomatic buildings and homes also were damaged.”Pieces of windows, doors and glass hit me, but thank God I didn’t get any injuries,” said Rizwan Sheikh, a planning specialist for the U.N.-funded Devolution Trust for Community Empowerment.”Outside the building it was a doomsday scene. Everybody was running helter-skelter. I saw people crying. I saw blood. I saw human body parts.”The six dead included two Pakistani policemen, as well as a cleaner and a handyman employed by the embassy. At least 35 people were wounded, officials said. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said one of the dead may have held a Danish passport, but he did not elaborate.A Brazilian woman who worked at the Danish embassy was among the wounded. Her injuries were not serious, Brazil’s foreign ministry said.It was the second targeting of foreigners in the Pakistani capital in less than three months.The Norwegian and Swedish governments immediately closed their embassies in the wake of the blast, which damaged the homes of the Dutch ambassador, the Australian defense attache and the Indian ambassador. No one was injured.The U.S. Embassy urged Americans to use extra caution when traveling through Islamabad and to avoid the blast site. Officials from U.N. agencies were to meet Tuesday about possibly sending people home.Pakistan’s border regions are considered havens for al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants believed behind attacks on U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan and a series of blasts in Pakistan in the past year.Pakistan’s government, in office for just two months, has been pursuing peace deals with the militants, a shift away from the U.S.-backed military tactics employed by President Pervez Musharraf.The U.S. has expressed concern the deals will give militant groups time to regroup and plan more attacks, and Monday’s blast could lead the West to push Pakistan to rely more on military operations against extremists.Pakistani officials condemned the attack, but indicated they would keep up militant contacts. The government has insisted it is not talking to “terrorists” but rather militants willing to lay down their weapons.”There is no question of any impact of this incident on the peace process, but of course it badly harmed our image in the world,” said Rehman Malik, the Interior Ministry chief.NATO says the deals have led to a spike in violence on Afghanistan’s side of the border.”If there are insurgencies in places that are not in Afghanistan but are very close by, and security forces are not taking them on, I don’t think that bodes well for the whole region,” Gen. Dan McNeill, outgoing commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Monday.Denmark faced threats at its embassies following the reprinting in February by about a dozen newspapers of a cartoon that depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. That and other images in a Danish paper sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2006.Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter, a U.S. group that monitors al-Qaida messages, said the bombing was likely the work of the terror group or one of its affiliates.He said al-Qaida called for attacks against Danish diplomatic facilities and personnel in a video last August, and repeated its threat in April.”I urge and incite every Muslim who can harm Denmark to do so in support of the Prophet, God’s peace and prayers be upon him, and in defense of his honorable stature,” IntelCenter quoted al-Zawahri as saying in an April 21 video.Monday’s bombing follows al-Qaida attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen in March and another on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania in February, the group said.Mahmood Shah, a former security chief for the tribal regions, said al-Qaida attacks tend to be more lethal than Monday’s blast. Radical local clerics could have been behind it, although if it was a suicide bombing, it likely originated from the unruly border regions where al-Qaida and Taliban find sanctuary.Even if the attack isn’t linked to the tribal regions, the U.S. and the West “will use this … to say look, your policy (on peace deals) is not working,” analyst Talat Masood said.The Danish Embassy is located on a leafy street lined with plush villas housing diplomatic missions and residences, offices and private homes. Concrete barriers lined at least one end, but access was not closely controlled, according to an Islamabad resident who traveled the road the previous day.Moeller said Denmark had increased security at several embassies, including Islamabad, in the past two years. In April, Denmark briefly evacuated staff from its embassies in Algeria and Afghanistan because of terror threats linked to the drawings.Associated Press writers Stephen Graham, Zarar Khan and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi, Desmond Butler in Washington and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide