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Probe of Consulate Blast in Pakistan Still Stymied

June 22, 2002|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — One week after a bombing attack on the U.S. Consulate in the port city of Karachi left 12 people dead and more than 50 wounded, an array of law enforcement agencies are still searching for their first breakthrough, Pakistani police said Friday.

"We have no conclusive evidence yet that links anyone with the bombing," said Syed Kamal Shah, chief of police for Sindh province, which includes Karachi. "We have not arrested anyone, Arabs or otherwise, in connection with the case."

The involvement of so many U.S. and Pakistani agencies in the investigation has generated confusion, according to police officials who declined to be identified. Pakistani paramilitary units, the FBI, the intelligence services from both countries and the Sindh provincial police are all involved in the case.

Another government agency, the province's Home Department, announced Friday that the FBI had completed its investigation of the site and that the road adjacent to the consulate, where the bomb exploded, would be reopened to traffic before Monday.

Speaking privately, police said they were still leaning toward a theory that the bomb was planted in a driver's education car and detonated by remote control. That would suggest a higher level of sophistication than a bombing in Karachi last month that killed 14 people, including 11 French technicians, and a suicide attack in March on a church in the capital, Islamabad, that killed five people, including two Americans.

Police had expected earlier this week to receive the results of FBI lab tests that they hoped would confirm which of two vehicles involved in the explosion at the consulate carried the bomb, but as of Friday there had been no public comment on the results. Both the driver's education car and a small commercial van were blown apart.

Senior police officers Friday evaded media questions about the FBI report.

Against the backdrop of denials about arrests, lower-ranking police officials said that several foreign nationals--believed to be Arabs--and at least two members of a Muslim extremist group have been detained by other agencies in Karachi for questioning, apparently on suspicion of possible ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Apparently acting on an FBI tip, Pakistani paramilitary units raided buildings in an area of the city near the port and detained at least three Arabs. According to one official who declined to be identified, a laptop computer and software were seized during the raids, which were carried out by Pakistani Rangers.

But it was unclear whether the detainees were taken into custody because of the bombing or were rounded up as part of a nationwide search for remnants of Al Qaeda. Hundreds of the group's fighters sought refuge in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan following the collapse of the Taliban regime.

Pakistani federal counter-terrorism experts in Islamabad have speculated that the consulate bombing could have been carried out by Pakistani extremist groups with the help of Al Qaeda operatives hiding in Karachi.

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