Islamabad/Peshawar: In one of the most brazen attacks against Americans in recent years, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a US Consulate vehicle in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, killing three people and wounding 19 others, including two US nationals.
The two Americans wounded in the attack along with two Pakistani employees of the Consulate apparently escaped by whiskers as they were travelling in an armoured SUV.
The bomber slammed his car, laden with 110 kg of explosives into the Consulate vehicle, minutes after it had left the heavily guarded and fortified Consulate building and was passing a UNHCR guest house on Aabdara Road in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
So massive was the impact of the collusion of the bomb-laden car that it reverberated for miles around. Eyewitnesses who included policemen accompanying the Consulate car as escorts said a thick plume of smoke rose over the sky and the blast left a crater five feet wide on the road.
"The Americans were travelling in an armoured SUV and survived the attack," police officials said. An American backup vehicle immediately rushed the wounded Americans to the Consulate.
The police said the death toll could rise as many of the injured were in critical condition.
There were conflicting reports about whether there were any American casualties. Initially provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain had said two Americans were killed in the attack, but the US Embassy denied that any Americans were among the dead.
A statement issued by the US State Department confirmed
that a vehicle of the US Consulate was hit in the terrorist attack.
"Two US personnel and two Pakistani staff of the Consulate were injured and are receiving medical treatment. No US Consulate personnel were killed," the statement said.
TV footage showed the blast left the vehicle smoldering. Police later recovered half-burnt US passport from the car.
Officials at the Khyber Teaching Hospital said they had received two bodies and 19 injured. The sucide bomber was also killed. Two women, two children and a policeman were among the injured.
The UN also issued a statement, saying all employees of the UNHCR were safe.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack though such incidents are usually blamed on the Pakistani Taliban.
The US Consulate in Peshawar and its personnel have been targeted several times in the past by terrorists.
In May last year, a remote-controlled car bomb targeted a convoy of US Consulate vehicles, killing one person and injuring 11.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
In April 2010, three explosions went off in rapid succession near the Consulate.
Referring to today`s attack, the State Department statement said the US administration was "ready to work with Pakistani authorities on a full investigation so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice".
The charge d`affaires at the US Embassy Richard Hoagland appreciated the speedy action taken by Pakistani security forces to help the Americans who were injured in the terrorist attack.
"I am grateful for the humane professionalism of the local Pakistani security forces who saved the lives of the two American diplomats and two Pakistani local staff of the US Consulate General in Peshawar by pulling them to safety after their vehicle was attacked," Hoagland said in a statement.
"In this dangerous world where terrorists can strike at any moment, we must all work together -- Pakistanis and Americans alike -- because we have a strong mutual interest in defeating terrorism," he said.