PESHAWAR, Pakistan, (AP) – Militants exploded four bombs in quick succession Monday close to the U.S. Consulate in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, police and witnesses said.
Gunfire was briefly heard close to the heavily guarded and fortified building in Peshawar, said police officer Aziz Khan.
Two of the blasts took place around 20 yards (meters) from the main entrance to the building, an Associated Press reporter close to the scene said. Huge plumes of smoke rose high into the air. TV footage of one of the blasts suggested it was a car bomb.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad confirmed the consulate was the target of the attack, but gave no more details. It was unclear if the consulate itself was damaged.
Earlier Monday, at least 19 people were killed and more than 100 injured when a suicide bomber attacked a political party rally elsewhere in the northwest.
Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have long vowed to attack the United States, which has fired scores of missiles at them in their northwestern strongholds close to the border over the last 1 1/2 years. Washington has also given billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistani army, which is also attacking the Muslim extremists.
Local TV footage from Peshawar showed soldiers taking up defensive positions on the road outside the consulate Monday. One soldier hit the ground in the middle of the road and began firing as a large explosion sent up a plume of gray smoke nearby.
Rescue workers carried at least one wounded man away on a stretcher, his clothing soaked with blood.
The U.S. is only one of three countries to have a diplomatic presence in Peshawar, which has seen repeated militant attacks over the last 18 months. As well as attacking militants and hunting al-Qaeda in the northwest, Washington is also funding many development projects in the region aimed at cutting support for the insurgents.
It is unclear how many diplomats work at the building.
The frequency of militant attacks in Pakistan over the last three months has dropped compared to the final quarter of last year, but experts have cautioned it is far too early to say this means the insurgents are in retreat.
The other attack Monday took place in Timergarah, Lower Dir district. It hit a rally by the secular Awami National Party, the region’s ruling party and a prominent supporter of army offensives against the militants, witnesses and officials said.
Lower Dir lies next to the Swat Valley, which was the target of a major military offensive last year that succeeded in driving out the militants. Other major operations in the Afghan border region followed, and have gone some way in reassuring the world that Pakistan is not falling to the extremists.