Suicide bombing in Pakistan kills 11 French technicians

At least 14 people, including 11 French defence technicians, were killed and 23 others sustained injuries in a suicide bombing outside a five-star hotel in the Pakistani southern port city of Karachi on Wednesday. An explosive-laden car rammed into a navy vehicle taking the French to a dockyard, police officials and doctors said. At about 8.00 am, the suicide bomber slammed the car into the navy coaster bearing registration number PNC-4203 carrying the French personnel outside the Sheraton Hotel. The technicians, whose bus stopped on a traffic signal, started off from Avari Hotel for the dockyard, where they were jointly working with their Pakistani counterparts on a submarine-building project.

As no group or individual immediately claimed responsibility for what was described the first suicide blast in the troubled commercial capital of the country, provincial police chief Syed Kamal Shah told reporters the 11 foreigners, the Pakistani driver and the bomber were all killed in the massive explosion. Eye-witnesses said they were terrified and the whole neighbourhood was shaken by the 'deafening bang' that resulted from the car rear-heading into the coaster. Both vehicles were reduced to mere frames, with parts of human bodies scattered all over the place. "It was too horrible a scene to watch," they observed, pointing out that the powerful explosion created a large crater in the road. Kamal Shah did not rule out Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, saying officials would probe this aspect. "We cannot rule out the involvement of al-Qaeda and will investigate its possible role," he said of the blast that also caused some damage to the hotel. Police officials, who were gathering details of the deadly incident, said that the red-colour car used in the explosion had been lifted from the Gulshan Iqbal locality of the city some days back.

Heard miles away, the explosion also left several other vehicles damaged. Included among the dead were 11 French nationals and three Pakistanis. Eleven of the bodies were seen at Jinnah Hospital, two at PNS Shifa and as many at Civil Hospital. The authorities confirmed the death of three Pakistanis, including a woman. Many of the wounded were in critical condition. According to police and government officials, it was an act of sabotage perpetrated by 'an enemy country' in a bid to tarnish Pakistan's image. Their remarks were redolent of India's possible involvement in the bombing. Given the target of the terrorist act, they argued, the enemy wanted to undermine "our defence capability". Officials said members of the touring New Zealand cricket team - staying at the Pearl Continental Hotel just across the street - were safe, but team physiotherapist Dayle Shackle suffered a cut elbow from flying glass. New Zealand cricket authorities immediately abandoned the tour and called the team home, saying they should leave without their luggage if necessary. "I saw a scene of total devastation," said the New Zealand cricket team's security manager, Reg Dickason. "There are bodies and pieces of bodies all over the place," he told the New Zealand Press Association. Shop assistant Saleemullah, who works inside the Pearl Continental, said he was about to finish his night duty when he heard a big explosion. "I fell down on the floor to save myself from the flying glass," he said. "I saw a bus in pieces and a huge cloud of smoke. People were screaming and running all over and nobody knew what happened." Pools of blood lay on both sides of the street, while almost all the windows facing the road in the 10-storey Sheraton and nine-story Pearl Continental were blown out.

Pakistan has sought assistance and cooperation from France, Japan and United States in carrying out investigations into Wednesday's incident of terrorism in Karachi.

Addressing a press conference after a high-level meeting of the intelligence and security apparatus, chaired by Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, Federal Minister for Information and Media Development Nisar A. Memon confirmed involvement of a foreign hand in the dastardly suicide-bombing incident. He said that such incidents would not scare the government and it would deal with terrorists with an iron hand. Condemning the incident, he said it was aimed at destabilizing and maligning Pakistan, adding that the government will not come under pressure and continue its crackdown on terrorist elements and organisations. It was learnt that the president discussed the issue in detail with officials of the secret agencies and intelligence apparatus and directed them to evolve a comprehensive and scientific plan to unearth terrorist gangs, carrying out nefarious activities and killing innocent people. Memon said the suicide bombing could not be correlated with internal situation, adding that it is directly linked to the turn of events at the international level. "The fresh incident of terrorism was not merely against Pakistan," he said and added it was also an attempt to spoil Pakistan's relations with France and it was because of this reason that Pakistani soil was used for the purpose. Responding to a question, he said assassination of renowned religious scholar Ghulam Murtaza Malik was also part of a conspiracy aimed at destabilising Pakistan.

Religious scholar Dr Ghulam Murtaza Malik, his driver and a police official were Tuesday gunned down in the Pakistani eastern city of Lahore.

Memon said the sole purpose of these activities was to sabotage reforms process and economically weaken Pakistan by destroying its social fabric. To another question, he said Pakistan would seek assistance of US, Japan and France in carrying out investigations into the incident, adding that the government had decided to take drastic steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents. He said that heavy police contingent had been deployed on principal buildings as well as all the hotels and a tight security ring thrown to safeguard diplomats and foreign nationals. He conceded that fresh terrorist incident would have a negative impact on country's economy, adding that it will also discourage foreign investment. He said decision of the New Zealand cricket team to go back in the wake of the incident was also damaging for Pakistan.

Safiullah Gul, Pakistan

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