- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2010

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | Islamist militants unleashed a car bomb and grenade attack against a U.S. Consulate in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing four people and striking back after months of American missile strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in the region.

Hours earlier, a suicide bomber killed 45 people and wounded more than 70 at a rally by a secular political party in the northwest that has supported recent Pakistani army offensives in the region close to Afghanistan, where the United States is battling a related insurgency.

The multipronged strike against the consulate in Peshawar was the first direct assault on a U.S. mission in the country since 2006. Officials said the four attackers in two vehicles hoped to breach the heavily fortified compound and kill people inside, but they failed to do that and caused only minor damage.

They detonated their first suicide vehicle at a checkpoint some 20 yards from the entrance to the consulate, said Peshawar police chief Liaquat Ali Khan. The second vehicle, which was carrying a larger amount of explosives, was stopped at another security barrier some 15 yards from the entrance, he said.

The second blast killed two militants wearing suicide vests who were walking ahead of the pickup truck, Mr. Khan said.

Some officials and witnesses reported a third or possible fourth explosion. The blasts, some of which were filmed by local television stations, sent huge mushroom clouds over the city. One piece of footage showed a bomb exploding several yards from two people who had their arms raised in the air as if surrendering.

In Washington, a White House spokesman condemned the blasts.

The style of the attack — multiple suicide bombs and attackers with conventional weapons — has become an increasingly common one both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The attackers who fired at the consulate were wearing security uniforms, another tactic insurgents have used in both countries to slip into guarded areas, said a Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The four people killed in the attack included three security personnel and one civilian, Mr. Khan said. Two of the security personnel were employed by the consulate, the embassy said. The third was a Pakistani paramilitary soldier, police official Sattar Khan said.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Last week, Waliur Rehman, a senior militant commander, warned the insurgents were preparing more strikes.

“We know our enemy and will target its installations and facilities for which our special wing is fully ready,” he said in an interview in the tribal regions a few hours’ drive from Peshawar. “Pakistan has initiated army action in tribal areas to please America. Now the whole of Pakistan is like a battlefield for us.”

Al Qaeda and Taliban militants have long had their sights set on the U.S., which has fired scores of missiles at them in their northwestern strongholds over the past 1½ years. Washington has also given billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistani army.

Family members of people assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the country’s three other consulates in Pakistan were ordered to leave in March 2002 and have not been allowed to return.

In August 2008, the top U.S. diplomat at the consulate survived a gun attack on her armored vehicle. Three months later, gunmen fatally shot an American in Peshawar as he was traveling to work for a U.S.-funded aid program in the region.

Shortly before Monday’s attack, a suicide bomber struck a rally held by a Pashtun nationalist party in Lower Dir to celebrate the government-supported proposal to change the name of North West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, local police chief Mumtaz Zarin Khan said.

He said 45 people at the rally in the town of Timergarah were killed and 77 wounded.

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