| A policeman stands guard outside the US consulate in Karachi. (Reuters)
Karachi, Feb. 28 (Reuters): An Islamic extremist shot dead two policemen guarding the US consulate in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi today and wounded five other officers and a passerby, police said.
The attacker shot and wounded a policeman with a pistol before snatching his sub-machinegun and using it to shoot the others, police inspector Malik Ishaq said. Officials said the man, who was arrested when he ran out of ammunition, had told police he was an Afghan. Police said he was linked to a local Islamic extremist group.
Terry White, a US embassy spokesman in Islamabad, said no consulate staff had been hurt in the 0630 GMT attack, the first on a US target in Pakistan since June, when a car bomb exploded outside the same building in southern Karachi’s business district, killing 12 Pakistanis and wounding another 20.
Some of the victims of today’s attack were sitting inside a tent that serves as a check post in the narrow lane adjacent to the consulate and leading to one of its entrances.
Provincial police chief Syed Kamal Shah said the wounded were four policemen, a paramilitary ranger and a Pakistani civilian.
The assailant tried to flee through a park after exhausting his ammunition, but was caught by paramilitary officers.
Senior interior ministry official Brig. Javed Cheema said the attacker said he was Afghan, but added: “Let’s see, because such people change their statements all the time.”
Fayyaz Leghari, a police deputy inspector general, said the attacker was a young man in his late 20s.
He was the sole attacker, but we are trying to determine if any accomplices were present,” he said, adding that security cameras at the consulate had filmed the incident.
“The suspect is not linked to al Qaida, but connected to some local Pakistani extremist group. We are investigating and trying to ascertain his affiliation,” he said.
The attack on the consulate last year was blamed on Islamic militants opposed to President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to back the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan.
Thousands of US troops are in Afghanistan pursuing remnants of the former Taliban regime and the al Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, which is blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Alam Zeb, the police officer whose gun was snatched, said in hospital the attacker was a “bulky fellow” dressed in Western-style trousers, not traditional Pakistani clothes.
Doctors said Alam Zeb’s injuries were serious and that another wounded man was also in critical condition. US spokesman White said the consulate had not been open to the public for several months, but had continued to function.
The road outside the building was sealed off by police after today’s attack and FBI officers could be seen photographing empty cartridge cases on the road.
The shooting was just the latest act of militant violence in Karachi.
Yesterday, gunmen shot dead two Shias in the centre of the city, just days after a hit-and-run attack outside a Shia mosque in which nine people were killed.
Those two incidents came after a relative lull in sectarian attacks in the past several months.
Last year, Karachi saw several bloody attacks on Western targets, the worst the killing of 11 French naval engineers and three Pakistanis in a car bombing outside a major hotel in May.
In December, police arrested three men they suspected of planning to kill U.S. diplomats in the city by ramming their car with another packed with explosives.
In November, five militants pleaded not guilty at a trial in connection with the June attack on the US consulate.
Police said all were members of al-Almi, an offshoot of the radical Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (Movement of Holy Warriors), which is also accused of conspiring to kill President Musharraf.