Taliban Target American Convoy in Pakistan, One Killed

11 injured as Taliban militants bomb US consulate vehicles, two employees suffer injuries

The Taliban bombed a U.S. consulate convoy in Peshawar on Friday, killing one person and wounding 11 others in the first attack on Americans in Pakistan since Osama bin Laden's killing in the military garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2.

According to a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, two U.S. government employees were lightly wounded in the rush-hour attack in the volatile northwestern city, which runs into the tribal belt that Washington has branded a global headquarters of al-Qaida.

One of two armoured vehicles was damaged by what a bomb disposal official said was 50 kilos of low-grade explosives packed into a car and detonated by remote-control, dismissing initial reports of a suicide bomber on a motorcycle.

"Two vehicles of the US consulate were on their way to the consulate when they were attacked," US embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said. "One vehicle was damaged. There is no death among our personnel," he said, adding that two US government employees suffered "minor injuries".

Witnesses said the armoured vehicle skidded off the road after the blast, which happened at around 8:25 a.m. (0325 GMT), and smashed into an electricity pylon on a pedestrian footpath.

City police chief Liaquat Ali Khan told reporters a local man riding a motorbike was killed and 11 others wounded, including two foreigners who received "minor injuries". "It was a car bomb. The car was already parked there on the road. It was exploded with a remote control," he said.

The bomb gouged a foot-deep crater out of the roadside, cracked the front wall of a nearby house and shattered the windows in two others, TV channels reported.

"I had just arrived at school and was about to start my work when there was a big blast. The windows of our school were broken and I was hurt," school administrator Zahid Zaman told TV reporters from a hospital bed.

Hukam Khan, in charge of the bomb disposal squad in Peshawar, said the 50 kilos of explosives were planted in a car before being detonated. "They were not good quality explosives, that's why there was relatively little damage," he told a news agency.

The Pakistani Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility, threatening further attacks against Western targets in telephone calls to media offices and indicating that the blast was to avenge the killing of bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs.

"Our first enemy is Pakistan, then the United States and after that, other NATO countries," said spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who has earlier claimed responsibility for the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian cabinet minister, in March. "The diplomatic staff of all NATO countries are also our targets," said Ehsan.

The United States leads a NATO force of around 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan that is trying to put down a 10-year Taliban insurgency. Pakistani logistical and military support is considered vital to the war effort.

"Osama was our leader and America is the biggest terrorist," Ehsan said, adding: "We will inflict such losses that Americans would never forget."

Americans have been targeted before in Pakistan. In April of 2010, militants using a car bomb and firing weapons attacked the U.S. consulate in Peshawar. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the operation in which eight people, including three militants, were killed. No one in the mission was hurt.

Friday's attack came exactly a week after the Taliban claimed a devastating bomb attack that killed 98 people outside a police training centre in the northwest as the first revenge for the al-Qaida leader's death.

Just hours after the bombing, a U.S. drone strike destroyed a vehicle in Pakistan's Taliban-infested North Waziristan Agency on the Afghan border, killing six Taliban, reports said.

Friday's attack was the seventh to be reported in Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghan border since US commandos killed bin Laden.

The two missiles struck the Tappi area, 10 kilometres (six miles) east of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, where US officials want Pakistan to launch an offensive against networks fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The identity of those killed could not be confirmed, but they probably included some foreign militants.

Other reports said feared Taliban commander Sirajud Din Haqqani, the son of Haqqani network chief Jalalud Din Haqqani, was the target of the attack. However, it could not be confirmed whether Siraj was in the targeted vehicle.

U.S. officials have been locked in talks this week with Pakistan's leadership, stepping up efforts to smooth over a crisis sparked by the American raid in the garrison city of Abbottabad.

U.S. officials accuse Pakistan of sheltering militants active in Afghanistan and although they are poring over intelligence from bin Laden's house, they say so far there is no evidence that the country was complicit in hiding him.

Pakistan's civilian and military leaders were left angry and embarrassed over the U.S. raid and the discovery that bin Laden had been living, possibly for years, in a military academy town two hours' drive from Islamabad.

It rocked the country's seemingly powerful security establishment, with its intelligence services and military widely accused of incompetence or complicity over bin Laden's presence.

Many Pakistanis are frustrated with the inability of security forces to subdue the Taliban. In a separate attack on Friday, an explosion killed five people and wounded four in the tribal region of Orakzai Agency in the northwest.

The Pakistani rupee fell to an eight-month low of 86 to a dollar on Friday. Dealers said the new attacks had compounded uncertainty linked to bin Laden's killing and its aftermath.

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