A suspected suicide car bomb exploded near the US consulate in Karachi two days before US President George W. Bush is due to visit Pakistan, killing five people and injuring dozens, officials said.
The explosions ripped through the car park of the five-star Marriott Hotel next to the consulate in the city's highest security zone, destroying at least 10 cars, damaging others including some from the US mission, and smashing windows, an Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene said.
'We are investigating the motives behind the blasts but apparently it coincided with the visit of Bush,' said Salahuddin Haider, spokesman for the government of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.
Islamic militants opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's close ties to Bush have launched frequent attacks on the US consulate. A suicide car bomb outside the building in June 2002 killed 12 Pakistanis.
The US consulate is only separated from the blast site by a small lane.
Haider said there was only one 'powerful' bomb in today's attack and that an exploding petrol tank caused a second, low-intensity blast heard shortly afterwards.
Clouds of black smoke spewed from the blazing cars in the Marriott car park and charred wreckage was strewn across the area as paramedics and firefighters rushed to the scene.
Scores of police cordoned off the site.
Karachi police Assistant Superintendent Javed Akbar said five people were killed. A headless body was found near the damaged wall of the Marriott, he said, adding that the toll could rise.
Officials said a paramilitary soldier on security duty was also among the dead and another body was stuck in one of the damaged cars.
Hospitals in Karachi said at least 34 people were wounded, many with burn injuries.
The blast was apparently in a Suzuki Mehran car parked at the back of Marriot hotel, Akbar said. It was so powerful that it left a crater almost three feet deep and 10 feet wide.
Parts of the blazing car fell inside the hotel lobby, he said.
Sindh police chief Jehangir Mirza said it was a possible suicide car bombing. 'There is a possibility that it was a suicide attack, but we are still investigating,' he told AFP.
'It is handiwork of those who want to see disturbance in this region. The timings and selection of the blast site indicates it was a planned attack,' Information minister Sheikh Rashid told the local Aaj television channel, reports Forbes.
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