- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s capital was on high alert today 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 Qaeda- and Taliban-linked militants.

Yesterday’s attack also came at a politically sensitive time — parliament is due to convene tomorrow, bringing to power foes of U.S.-allied President Pervez Musharraf.

A notice posted on the U.S. Embassy’s Web site late yesterday 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.

“Embassies are reviewing their security practices and the guidance they give to their employees,” Mayfield said.

Concrete barriers lined the streets today of the upscale neighborhood around the Luna Caprese restaurant, a popular spot for expatriates in Islamabad and one of the few that serves alcohol. A dozen policemen stood guard outside the two-story villa in what had been considered a secure neighborhood where diplomats and government officials live.

Police stepped up vehicle checks today throughout the capital and detained some suspects, said city police chief Shahid Nadeem Baloch. He would not give a number.

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

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry identified the dead woman as Sacide Ender Baskaya, who was working for a Turkish aid group, Support to Life. A ministry statement condemned the attack and said Turkey would “maintain its solidarity with brother Pakistan.”

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.

The blast rang out across downtown Islamabad about 8:45 p.m. yesterday. Fire engines and police raced to the scene, which was littered with blood and debris.

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.

Yesterday’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, by suspected Islamic militants who set off grenades at a church in Islamabad’s heavily guarded diplomatic enclave.

With extremist attacks on the rise, a growing number of Pakistanis are questioning Musharraf’s approach to countering al Qaeda 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.

Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.

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