Taliban attack US consulate in NW Pakistan

The Taliban attacked a US consulate in Pakistan with car bombs and grenades today killing three people, hours after 41 others died in a suicide attack on a political rally.

The assaults illustrated the resilience of militants in the country despite intense army operations and US missile strikes in their north-western havens near Afghanistan.

After the car bombs exploded at a checkpoint outside the consulate in Peshawar, attackers wearing security uniforms fired mortars or rocket-propelled grenades at the heavily fortified compound in an attempt to force their way in.

The US Embassy in Islamabad said no Americans were killed in the assault, but did not say whether the building itself was damaged.

Al Qaida and the Taliban have long vowed to attack the United States, which has fired scores of missiles at them in their north-western strongholds over the last 18 months. Washington has also given billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistani army, which is attacking the Muslim extremists.

The last attack against a US mission was in Karachi in 2006.

The three people killed in today's attack were a paramilitary soldier, a private security guard and a civilian. Four militants were also killed.

Two of the blasts took place around 20 yards from the main entrance to the consulate The US is only one of three countries to have a diplomatic presence in Peshawar, which has seen repeated militant attacks over the last 18 months. As well as attacking militants and hunting al-Qaida, Washington is also funding many development projects in the region aimed at cutting support for the insurgents.

It is unclear how many diplomats work at the building.

Shortly before the attack, a suicide bomber struck a rally held by a Pashtun nationalist party in Lower Dir to celebrate the government-supported proposal to change the name of North West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, said local police chief Mumtaz Zarin Khan.

"A police official spotted the bomber a second before he exploded," said Khan. "The official shot at him, but by that time, he had done his job."

A total of 41 people at the rally in the town of Timergarah were killed and 80 wounded, he said.

Lower Dir is next to the Swat Valley, which was the target of a major military offensive last year that succeeded in driving out the militants. Other major operations in the Afghan border region followed, and have gone some way in reassuring the world that Pakistan is not falling to the extremists.

The frequency of militant attacks in Pakistan over the last three months has dropped compared to the final quarter of last year, but experts have cautioned it is far too early to say this means the insurgents are in retreat.

The White House condemned the latest attacks. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said the White House has "great concern" about the bombings in Peshawar in which three people died. It "strongly condemns" the violence, Gibbs said.

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