- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

PARIS Twelve French naval experts were among 15 persons killed by a car bomb in Karachi yesterday in one of the bloodiest attacks linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network since September 11.

The attacker drove a battered, explosives-packed Toyota Corolla at high speed into a bus carrying the engineers to the port where they were working on two submarines for Pakistan's navy.

In the wake of terrorist threats, the men were being driven to work using a different route each day.

Bodies and debris were scattered over a 100-yard radius. At least 22 people, including 12 other Frenchmen, were taken to a hospital. Some of them were seriously injured.

The dead included the bus driver, a pedestrian and the bomber.

The bomb exploded outside the Sheraton Hotel at about 8 a.m. Witnesses said that the air was filled with smoke and screams, and that the bus was reduced to a blackened skeleton. Many hotel windows were blown out.

The bomb narrowly missed the New Zealand and Pakistani cricket teams, who were about to board buses at the Pearl Continental Hotel on the other side of the road for the first day of a match. New Zealand canceled the tour, and the team flew home.

France brushed aside attempts by some Pakistani officials to blame India for the attack and pointed the finger at bin Laden's allies. India's Foreign Ministry dismissed the Pakistani claim as "completely baseless."

Gen. Jean-Pierre Kelche, the French armed forces chief of staff, told a London Telegraph reporter in Paris that there was a "significant likelihood" that the attack was carried out by al Qaeda, because "the West and the allies involved in the coalition" in Afghanistan were being targeted.

Karachi has long been a stronghold for Islamic militants. The slain Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped in the port city in January, and four American oil workers were killed there by a gunman five years ago.

The bombing was one of the most audacious attacks against a Western target since September 11.

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