Pakistani agents foil car bombing of American consulate

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The Independent Online

Pakistani security agents yesterday defused an enormous car bomb in the port city of Karachi on the eve of a visit to Pakistan by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Pakistani security agents yesterday defused an enormous car bomb in the port city of Karachi on the eve of a visit to Pakistan by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

The bomb was defused just 20 minutes before it would have sprayed 750 litres of lethal chemicals and shrapnel outside the US Consulate.

Security cameras caught footage of a youth parking the Suzuki van outside the entrance, telling guards it was broken down, before he jumped into another car and sped away. Security was immediately heightened to protect the Indian cricket team touring Pakistan in a historic test series. Mr Powell, who is not visiting Karachi, arrives in Islamabad tomorrow and will also visit Afghanistan and India.

President Pervez Musharraf, who escaped two assassination attempts last December, yesterday said a Libyan member of al-Qa'ida, whom he declined to name, had paid Islamist extremists to carry out the attacks on his motorcade. Sixteen people were killed in the second attempt, when a car rammed into the presidential convoy, but missed General Musharraf's armoured limousine.

"The man who organised the suicide attacks against me was from Libya and a member of al-Qa'ida," he told an assembly of tribal elders near the Khyber Pass. "He [the Libyan] gave 1.5 to 2 million rupees ($26,100-$34,700) to a Pakistani who recruited Islamic militants," he said, adding that the government would be laying out evidence against the assassins in a television broadcast.

The Pakistani leader is under pressure from Washington to drive out the remnants of Osama bin Laden's supporters, and help ferret out the Saudi-born terrorist leader, who may be hiding in the tribal borderlands. At the same time, General Musharraf does not want to alienate the fundamentalist religious parties who hold sway in Baluchistan and the North-west Frontier provinces.

The President acknowledged for the first time yesterday that up to 600 foreigners "from different countries" are based in the semi-autonomous tribal zone that abuts the Afghan mountains. He pledged to drive out the militants if they refused to surrender.

At least 550 al-Qa'ida supporters have been arrested by Pakistani authorities since 2001, but the American military has repeatedly been thwarted by orders not to cross the border from Afghanistan in pursuit of militants. Volunteer holy warriors are said to come mostly from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Chechnya, Bosnia, Sudan, and Indonesia.

"You give any name to them, al-Qa'ida or not, but I say we will not allow these foreigners to stay in our tribal areas and create problems for us," General Musharraf said.

* Osama bin Laden narrowly escaped capture by French troops in Afghanistan, perhaps several times, the head of France's armed forces said yesterday. General Henri Bentégeat said on Europe-1 radio: "Our men were not very far. On several occasions, I even think that he slipped out of a net that was well closed."

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