Pakistan put on high alert: Special task force to probe attack

Safiullah Gul reports from Pakistan

The Pakistani government on Monday put the military contingents, police and other law enforcement agencies on high alert, beefing up security in the capital city of Islamabad’s diplomatic missions and churches in the wake of a the Sunday terrorist attack on a Protestant church that killed five people, including two Americans.

Military troops and police contingents were patrolling the diplomatic enclave whereas the law enforcement agencies were also put on high alert in other parts of the federal capital.

The attack on the church followed a warning issued by Sheikh Omar Saeed, the prime suspect in the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, who was kidnapped from the southern port city of Karachi and later killed.

Omar had a few days back warned US that soon American interests would be targeted around the world.

Pakistani Interior Secretary Tasneem Noorani on Monday said that apart from enhancing the security arrangements two special teams were constituted. A special investigating team headed by a police superintendent would be constituted, which would submit its report within three weeks time.

At a media briefing in Islamabad, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan said the government was determined to fight terrorism and would not relent in its stance against the menace. Maximum security arrangements were already in place in the diplomatic area, he claimed, saying: “It is unfortunate that the incident took place.”

The government would continue to provide maximum security for foreigners, promised Khan. “A place of worship, whatever the religion, is sacred and should be respected.”

He told a questioner that the government had constituted a task force to investigate the incident and fix responsibility. The spokesman added that he would be able to comment further on the issue only after receiving the result of the investigation. He was unaware if any arrests had been made so far in connection with the attack.

About General Tomy Franks visit, the spokesman noted that it was not the first time that the commander of US forces in Afghanistan had come here. “Pakistan is member of the international coalition against terrorism and from time to time he has been visiting here for consultations.”

Authorities are also reviewing security arrangements in the diplomatic quarter while searching for suspects while the Interior Ministry sources said that no arrests have been made so far.

Federal Information Minister Nisar Memon and Federal Minister for Minorities S.K. Tressler also visited various hospitals of the city to inquire after the health of the injured.

US diplomat Milton Green was reportedly surviving under critical condition, the doctors said. His wife Barbara and daughter were among five people killed in the terrorist attack.

Barbara Green worked in the embassy administration and her husband, Milton, worked in the computer division. Their son, whose name was not released, was slightly injured.

Another seven injured were being treated at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), while 16 to 17 were at the Al-Shifa hospital.

Foreign officials in the federal capital also held urgent meetings on Monday to decide how to react to a weekend grenade attack on a church. Diplomatic missions advised their nationals to be cautious and avoid public gatherings, while the United States said Americans could be the targets of more violence.

United Nations agencies in Islamabad held an emergency meeting to discuss the attack, which came just days after a man carrying grenades was caught trying to enter the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the federal capital.

"The United Nations has a security system which categorises any country between zero and five. Zero is no security measures taken and five is standby for evacuation," a UN official said.

"They decided to upgrade (Islamabad) to one. Also, any United Nations staff coming to Pakistan will need to have security clearance."

The foreigners in the capital city said they had increased protection at home and were keeping a low profile.

Travel advisories were upgraded after the September 11 attacks on the United States and mounting opposition of the hard-line groups to President Pervez Musharraf's support to the US-led war against terror, sparking the evacuation of most resident expatriates from Pakistan.

By the New Year many people returned, allowing international schools to reopen.

But embassies said on Monday there had been a flood of calls from frightened foreign residents wondering whether they should pack their bags once more.

"The recent attack on the Protestant International Church in Islamabad emphasises the need for acute personal security awareness," the Australian High Commission in Islamabad said in a recorded warning. "People should avoid large public gatherings and be alert to persons exhibiting suspicious behavior. Personal vehicles should not be left unattended in public places, shopping malls and markets places," the warning said.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Christina Rocca, also arrived in Pakistan after cutting short a visit to India, in the aftermath of Sunday's grenade attack on a church.

Rocca compared the attack to the September 11 attacks on America. "Six months ago the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre slaughtered innocent people from over 80 nations," she said in a statement.

"Sunday's attack in Islamabad was also against innocent individuals from many countries, this time joined together in prayer."

Safiullah Gul PRAVDA.RU

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