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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK
US condemns Karachi attack
Wreck of the bus in Karachi
Witnesses described a scene of carnage
The United States has condemned the suicide bomb attack on French workers in Pakistan as a "heinous attack" on two of America's closest allies in the war on international terrorism.

The French army's chief of staff, General Jean-Pierre Kelche, said the attack - which killed 12 French nationals - was very likely carried out by Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The president termed this a conspiracy against the country and the nation [and a conspiracy to] create a wedge between Pakistan and France

Official Pakistani statement

He said the bombers had targeted the West in general and specifically countries participating in the US-led coalition fighting al-Qaeda and Taleban militants in Afghanistan.

Washington's response echoed that of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who described the attack in Karachi as an act of international terrorism.

He said it would be answered with the full force of the government, and appealed for international understanding of Pakistan's efforts against terrorism.

Two Pakistanis and the bomber also died when a car loaded with explosives was driven into a bus.

Cowardly act

The French nationals worked for a company which was carrying out a contract with the Pakistan navy.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington strongly condemned the attack.

"We have worked very closely with President Musharraf, because he is as interested as anybody in ending this kind of violence in his country and putting Pakistan on a moderate course," he said.

The French President, Jacques Chirac, has described the bombing as a cowardly and odious act and said he was sending his Defence Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, to Karachi to help increase protection for French nationals.

Police investigators at the scene
Police are looking for possible links to al-Qaeda
The company which employed the dead workers, Direction des Constructions Navales, said it was recalling its expatriate staff from Pakistan.

General Musharraf said 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.

An official statement released after General Musharraf met his security advisers said: "The president termed this a conspiracy against the country and the nation (and a conspiracy to) create a wedge between Pakistan and France."

Eyewitness accounts

The bus, which was on its way to the city's dockyard, was ripped apart by the explosion and the windows of the nearby Pearl Continental Hotel were shattered.

Witnesses described a scene of carnage. More than 20 people, including 12 French nationals, were wounded.

"The sound was so loud I think you could have heard it from 10 kilometres (six miles) away," a police officer at the scene, Munir Sheikh, said.

"I was just standing on the street and the noise was so loud it was frightening."

I was just standing on the street and the noise was so loud it was frightening

Police officer Munir Sheikh
Pakistani police said they would investigate possible links between the bombers and the al-Qaeda network as well as Pakistan's regional rival, India.

"We cannot rule out the involvement of al-Qaeda, but our suspicions are across the border. I am pointing towards India," the Reuters news agency quoted Sindh province police chief, Kamal Shah, as saying.

India rejected the allegation, and condemned the attack.

"We treat (the allegation) with the disdain it fully deserves. It is totally and completely baseless," Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao told journalists.

Narrow escape

The New Zealand national cricket team, who were staying at the Pearl Continental Hotel, called off their Pakistan tour, saying they would return home immediately.

Members of the Pakistan national side, who were staying at the same hotel, said they narrowly escaped getting hurt.

Karachi has been the scene of many sectarian killings recently - this was the third attack in less than four months directed against foreigners.

The American journalist Daniel Pearl disappeared in Karachi in January while researching a story on Islamic militants and a video of his killing was later handed to the United States consulate.

In March, two Americans were among five killed when attackers threw grenades at a church in the diplomatic enclave of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

President Musharraf has cracked down on extremist religious groups and banned five of them in January.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"The repairs have started but the damage has been done"
Pakistan Embassy Spokesman, Asad Hayauddin
"The president had a meeting with the top intelligence and military people"
Khamran Khan, defence analyst, Karachi's 'The News'
"There seems to be a link between Musharraf's election and the surge in violence"
See also:

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
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