Explosions rock Islamabad

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The Independent Online

Several explosions hit Pakistan's capital today. Rockets struck near the US Embassy, the UN office, an American cultural center and other buildings, rocking Islamabad with at least seven explosions, officials and witnesses said.

Several explosions hit Pakistan's capital today. Rockets struck near the US Embassy, the UN office, an American cultural center and other buildings, rocking Islamabad with at least seven explosions, officials and witnesses said.

At least six people were wounded, police said.

"These are rockets fired from cars by unidentified people who have managed to flee," said Mohammed Ali Khan, a senior city official.

An Associated Press reporter saw a car burning outside the cultural center and another burning car several hundred yards from the U.S. Embassy. Witnesses said they saw a rocket launcher inside the flaming car near the cultural center, and several witnesses reported seeing rockets fired right before the blasts occurred.

The car burning near the embassy was a U.N. vehicle.

"I saw the car jump five to 10 yards after the blast, but luckily no one was close to it," said Anjum Ahmed, who was near the U.S. Embassy at the time of the blast near there.

At least three of the wounded were hit outside the U.S. Information Services cultural center, known as the American Center. It was unclear where the other wounded people suffered their injuries. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the blasts near the embassy, the U.N. office, near a branch of the U.S.-based Citibank, or a fourth explosion near the city's World Bank building.

Authorities said they had no information on who might be behind the blasts. But they came as the United Nations and the United States are in a showdown with Afghanistan, Pakistan's neighbor, over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia and its supporters elsewhere - including some militant Islamic groups in Pakistan - have warned the United Nations not to impose sanctions on Afghanistan, as the world body has promised to do unless bid Laden is turned over for trial.

The explosions all hit within a two-minute span and within several miles (kilometers) of each other in the downtown area.

A student who identified himself only as Hussain said he was inside the library at the American Center when he heard an explosion. He said he and dozens of other people rushed outside to see what had happened.

Outside the U.S. Embassy, hundreds of people gathered to watch as the U.N. car burned.

At both spots, police and paramilitary troops massed and set up barricades. They pushed curious onlookers away from the scene, warning them of the possibility of more explosions.

Sirens wailed, and police cars, ambulances and fire trucks swarmed through the streets. Plumes of smoke could be seen rising in several different areas.

The blasts came two days before the a U.N. deadline expired for Afghanistan's leadership to turn over bin Laden, who has lived there for several years.

The U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in August 1998, and the United States accused bin Laden, a Saudi dissident, of masterminding the attacks, which left 224 dead. The United States retaliated shortly afterward by bombing a suspected weapons factory in Sudan and targets in Afghanistan where bin Laden was suspected of running a terrorist training camp.

On Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators in southern Afghanistan attacked United Nations offices with stones and bricks, burning U.S. flags and effigies of President Clinton to protest the sanctions.

Last month, a military coup in Pakistan ousted the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But the new military government has promised an eventual return to democracy, and there has been little unrest in Pakistan since the coup.

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