ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed a Saudi diplomat in the Pakistani city of Karachi on Monday, the second attack on the mission since the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden increased tension in the region.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the killing, and warned the United States against attacking its close ally, al-Qaida. Al-Qaida has waged a bloody campaign to topple the royal family and government of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of bin Laden. The group has also vowed to avenge his killing by U.S. special forces in Pakistan’s garrison city of Abbottabad on May 2.
Four people riding motorcycles opened fire on the Saudi diplomat’s car, media reports quoted a Karachi police official as saying. The diplomat, a low ranking security official, was on his way to the consulate when the assailants struck.
“We condemn this attack. No one who carries out this kind of attack can be a Muslim,” the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad, Abdul Aziz al-Ghadeer, said in press statement. Four bullets were fired and one struck the diplomat in the head.
The Saudi state news agency named the diplomat as Hassan al-Qahtani and described his killing as a “criminal attack.” It said Saudi officials would investigate the shooting alongside the Pakistani authorities.
The shooting, which a Saudi embassy official said occurred about 60 meters (200 feet) from the consulate, came days after unidentified attackers threw two hand grenades at the consulate in Pakistan’s commercial hub. No one was hurt in that attack.
Saudi Arabia, one of the United States’ most strategic allies, is the world's biggest oil exporter and any signs that its security is threatened could move global oil prices.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long been close allies and Islamabad needs all the support it can get after the discovery of bin Laden embarrassed Islamabad.
“We trust the Pakistani authorities and hope they will identify the terrorists and bring them to justice,” ambassador al-Ghadeer said.
Islamabad said Pakistan’s junior foreign minister, Hina Rabbani, spoke to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to express “shock and anger” over the killing and pledged the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
“The government of Pakistan will take all necessary measures to ensure the security and protection of diplomats in Pakistan,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia expelled bin Laden in 1991 and later revoked his nationality. The government in Riyadh, which is allied to the authorities in Islamabad, last week welcomed his killing as a boost to international anti-terror efforts. Pakistan is holding in protective custody three of bin Laden’s widows, who come from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and 13 of their children.
Before claiming responsibility for the shooting, the Taliban described Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “America’s slaves” and hailed the attack as a “very good job.”
Saudi Arabia, which is home to the fundamentalist Wahhabi brand of Islam, is seen as funding some of Pakistan’s hardline religious seminaries which churn out young men eager for Jihad, posing a long-term threat to the stability of the region.
On Friday, two Taliban suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a paramilitary fort in Pakistan’s northwestern province. More than 90 people, mostly young recruits of the Frontier Constabulary who were leaving for home on a 10-day leave, were killed and over 100 others injured in the Shabqadar area of Charsadda in the first major attack to “avenge” bin Laden’s killing.
Though Peshawar police chief Liaqat Ali Khan said there was little chance that the attack had been carried out in retaliation to bin Laden’s assassination, the Taliban led by notorious commander Hakimullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for both the attacks and called it the first major attack to “avenge bin Laden’s assassination.”
Under Hakimullah Mehsud, who replaced Baitullah Mehsud as leader of the group after he was killed by a U.S. missile in 2009, the Pakistani Taliban have been seen as increasingly inspired by al-Qaida in waging mass-casualty attacks.
Witnesses and senior FC and police officials said the first explosion occurred when a suicide bomber blew himself up close to a large number of newly-trained recruits boarding vehicles to leave for their homes. The second attack followed a few minutes later when the FC recruits were busy tending to their injured colleagues.
The scene was a reminder that, behind the spy games and hushed diplomatic shuffle, it is ordinary Pakistanis who have paid the price for their country’s part in the fight against militancy. Some 30,000 Pakistanis have died violently in the past decade, including 9,000 from the armed forces, according to official figures – 10 times the death toll in the U.S. on 9/11.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who previously claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks including the assassination of Pakistan’s first Christian cabinet minister Shahbaz Bhatti in March this year, said, “This was the first revenge for Osama’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has, meanwhile, alerted the police and administrative authorities of all the four provinces against attacks on churches and other places of worship across the country.
A source in a security agency said the terrorists wanted to take maximum benefit from the current state of relations between Pakistan and the United States by carrying out deadly attacks on law enforcement personnel and minorities. “There is specific threat to some churches in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad but we are trying our best to provide security to all places of worship, especially on Sundays,” he said.
The Rev. Hanooq Haq, pastor in-charge of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Lahore, says his church has repeatedly received threats of terrorism. “The situation is getting dangerous indeed. The police has deployed more personnel for our security but we only trust in the Lord for our safety. Christians in Pakistan are praying a lot for peace in the country and we are very hopeful that God will always keep His people safe,” he said, adding that as believers all Christians should be a source of courage and hope for others and should not let the spirits of despondency and despair overcome their faith.