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Karachi car bomb: post-play, pre-Powell

Karachi, March 15: Police in Pakistan today defused a huge car bomb outside the American consulate in Karachi, two days after the Indian cricket team played in the city and as many days before US secretary of state Colin Powell visits the country.

A van packed with explosives was towed away from the consulate during the morning rush hour to a nearby sports ground, where bomb disposal experts defused it, the police said.

A 750-litre drum containing a mixture of chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, was loaded on the van, but apparently it was not connected with detonators.

“If this exploded it would have caused massive destruction,” Munir Ahmed Sheikh, a sub-inspector with the city’s bomb squad, said. “God has saved us.”

Karachi was among the most risk-prone venues for the Indian team. The security fears cast such a long shadow that the team was flown out as soon as the match was over to avoid an overnight halt in the city.

A US embassy spokesman said consulate security personnel spotted the van and informed the police before staff had arrived. “Our people are not working, at least for today,” he said.

Security cameras at the US mission caught pictures of a man parking the van, getting out and talking to a guard. A copy of the footage has been handed to the police.

“A youngster parked the van in front of the consulate, telling guards that it had broken down. He then drove away in another car,” said Fayyaz Leghari, a deputy inspector-general of police.

The van was stolen from the Baluch colony in the city on Sunday evening by two gunmen who wounded the vehicle’s owner when they grabbed it, the police said.

A suicide car bombing outside the same consulate in June 2002 killed 12 Pakistanis. That attack was the work of Islamic militants opposed to Pakistani co-operation in the US-led war on terror.

President Pervez Musharraf escaped two bomb attacks in Rawalpindi in December. He said today a Libyan militant was involved in the attack.

Powell is due to visit Islamabad, but not Karachi, on Wednesday.

The Pakistan foreign office said he would hold talks on the war against terror, Indo-Pak ties and initiatives to curb nuclear proliferation.

The police said it was too early to identify any group involved in today’s attack but Islamic militants were prime suspects.

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