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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Arrests over Karachi bomb attack
French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie (left) visits scene of the attack
The defence minister saw wreckage from the blast
Dozens of people have been arrested in Pakistan's southern Sindh province in connection with a fatal bomb attack on a bus carrying foreign nationals in the provincial capital, Karachi.

Pakistani police also detained suspected militants believed to have links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in raids across the country, the Pakistani interior ministry said.

Investigators are examining the possible involvement of al-Qaeda in Wednesday's suspected suicide attack on the bus which killed 15 people, including 11 French workers.

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Thursday visited the scene of the blast, outside the Sheraton Hotel.

We have been shattered by this odious attack

Michele Alliot-Marie, French defence minister
The home secretary of Sindh province, Mukhtar Sheikah, said 40 suspects had been arrested in Sindh, including people recently released from prison and individuals involved in sectarian violence.

Interior Ministry official Tasneem Noorani said police in several cities had also arrested "a number" of people who belonged to groups outlawed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last January.

He said most of the arrests had taken place in eastern Punjab province and he expected more people to be detained.

Ten alleged militants are being questioned further north in Peshawar.

French anger

The French defence minister, who saw the charred wreckage of the bus outside the hotel on Thursday morning, said France had been "shattered by this odious attack".

Three Pakistanis were also killed and more than 20 people were wounded in the blast.

Twelve French nationals who were injured arrived home on Thursday on board a German medical plane, after being released from hospital.

No group has claimed resposibility for the attack, but the head of the French armed forces said there was a "significant likelihood" that al-Qaeda was involved.

Climate of fear

Security has been stepped up around Karachi following the attack.

Police investigators at the scene
Police are looking for possible links to al-Qaeda

Police wearing bullet-proof jackets have taken up positions behind sandbags, while concrete barriers have been erected outside other luxury hotels to thwart further attempted attacks.

The bombing - the third attack in less than four months directed against foreigners in Pakistan - has raised tension in the city and caused fear among foreign nationals.

"The foreign business community is in a state of shock," said Moin Fudda, president of the Overseas Chamber of Commerce.

"We used to invite our foreign partners to Pakistan and advised them to stay in the Sheraton Hotel as the safest place for them, but what would we advise them now?" he asked.

The Pakistani interior ministry has placed an advertisment in leading newspapers urging the public to report any suspicions about foreign nationals in the country.

Pakistani pledge

Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon promised Ms Alliot-Marie that his government would arrest those responsible for the attack.

Attack scene outside Sheraton Hotel
Musharraf said the attack was also aimed at Pakistan

President Pervez Musharraf said on Wednesday he considered the bombing "an attack on Pakistan as well as France".

"We feel that this act of international terrorism has to be met with full force," he said in a television interview.

Both the Pakistani police and the French army's chief of staff, General Jean-Pierre Kelche, have said the attack could be linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The United States has condemned the suicide attack on French workers in Pakistan as a "heinous attack" on two of America's closest allies in the war on international terrorism.

The BBC's Nicola Pugh
"Fingers are also pointing to Islamic militants"
See also:

09 May 02 | South Asia
Pakistan hunts 'suspicious foreigners'
08 May 02 | Cricket
Kiwis cancel cricket tour
02 May 02 | South Asia
Bomb blasts rock Karachi
28 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pakistan church suspects held
08 May 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Karachi blast
08 May 02 | Europe
France's key players
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