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Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 17:12 GMT
US staff prepare to leave Pakistan
Attack on Islamabad church
Two Americans died in Sunday's church attack
All non-essential diplomatic staff and their families were preparing to leave Pakistan on Saturday amid continuing fears for their safety.


We believe the war against terrorism in Pakistan is far from over

US State Department spokesman

The US State Department ordered the departure of all "non-emergency personnel" following a security review after last Sunday's grenade attack on a church in Islamabad.

Embassy officials would not reveal details of the evacuation for security reasons, but one official said their departure would be staggered.

Washington has become increasingly concerned for the safety of its citizens abroad following the church attack, which left two Americans dead.

A high state of alert was already in place after the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped in Karachi in January.

Extremists challenged

Reports said security was tight around the embassy compound in Islamabad, which is almost next door to the church where the grenade attack took place.

Hospital staff carry the coffin of a US citizen killed in a grenade attack on a church
Washington is increasingly concerned for its citizens abroad

As the officials and their families packed their bags, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reiterated his pledge to wipe out extremism in Pakistan.

In a televised speech marking Pakistan Day, General Musharraf called on the country to unite in its battle against extremism.

He also promised a complete revamp of the country's intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, whom he criticised for not preventing the attack on the church.

The president vowed to crack down on Islamic militants in January, but a spate of sectarian attacks has contributed to criticism that his policy is not working.

Embassy stays open

The BBC's Paul Reynolds in Washington says the departure of the embassy staff has had to be handled delicately.

Washington does not want to declare that General Musharraf, its new ally in the war on terrorism, is incapable of protecting diplomatic staff.

"We will be identifying non-emergency personnel and dependents and they will then make arrangements for the departure of those people expeditiously," Phil Reeker, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.

"However, our embassy and consulates will remain open."

"We believe the war against terrorism in Pakistan is far from over and that we will be able to carry it on with greater focus if our dependents are not present in US facilities there," Reuters news agency quoted Mr Reeker as saying.

The decision came only hours after four men were charged in the city of Karachi with the murder of Mr Pearl.

British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect, was charged along with 10 alleged accomplices, seven of whom have still to be apprehended.

The trial is scheduled to begin in Karachi next week, and all the suspects could face the death penalty if found guilty.

E-mails

A lawyer for three of the accused said he hoped his clients would be extradited to America to face trial, where sentences could be lighter if they confessed to lesser charges under the US judicial system.

Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl
Four men have now been charged with Daniel Pearl's murder

Two other suspects said to be linked to the e-mails claiming responsibility for the kidnapping - Fahad Naseem and Salman Saqib - have already appeared before a judge and were remanded to jail.

Police officers are continuing to search for seven more men who were charged in their absence.

The chief prosecutor, Raja Quereshi, said he would be calling 31 witnesses, including officials from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A US federal grand jury has indicted Omar Sheikh and Washington wants to extradite him to face charges in the US, but Pakistan has said it will not consider such a move until its own investigations are concluded.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Helen Simms
"All non-essential staff are being evacuated"
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"The Pakistani authorities have taken a lot of security measures"
See also:

18 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pakistan probe into church attack
18 Mar 02 | South Asia
US focus on Pakistan after attack
09 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case suspect hears testimony
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf says Pearl 'too intrusive'
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
US offers reward for Pearl killers
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